by Gerry Zeitlin
Sedona, Arizona, USA
New Frontiers in Science, Vol. 1 No.
In his recent book,
The Talk of the
Paul LaViolette (2000) shows how new
high-resolution recordings of pulsar signals reveal features that are
inconsistent with the longstanding “neutron star lighthouse” pulsar
LaViolette argues compellingly that the interesting and quite
intricate behaviors of pulsars fit much more easily with a model of
an ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) beacon carrying information.
Part 1 of the present paper summarizes
LaViolette’s key points and describes the need for follow-up
studies. Part 2 describes a multi-layered and multi-disciplinary
program of research aimed at examining and testing LaViolette’s
assertions, and if the results merit, continuing with a search for
information content in the pulsar signals.
Readers are invited to join in this
LaViolette on Pulsars
The original discoverers of pulsar signals, Jocelyn Bell and
Hewish of Cambridge University, thought at first that they might be
observing artifacts of some extraterrestrial civilization (Sturrock
and Rockefeller, 2000).
But a more acceptable if tentative
explanation was soon found: the signals might be emanating from
white dwarf stars that were contracting and expanding, or dimming
and brightening (Hewish et. al., 1968). The radially-pulsing white
dwarf model was itself soon discarded after two pulsars with periods
less than 0.1 second were found in the Crab and Vela supernova
Out of some twenty different proposed
theoretical models of possible sources of these pulsing signals,
astronomers settled on the “neutron star lighthouse” put forward by
Thomas Gold (1968). In that model, a neutron star emits two opposed
beams of synchrotron radiation confined to a narrow cone about the
star’s magnetic axis. We perceive pulses as the beams swing by us if
we happen to be in the cone that they sweep out.
The original impression of pulsars (and
other newly-discovered astrophysical objects and phenomena) as ETI
beacons was not completely forgotten, however.
In a note added to his published
proceedings of the 1971 USSR conference on Communication with
Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI),
Sagan (1973) wrote:
“The very serious current energy
problems both in quasar and in gravity wave physics can be
ameliorated if we imagine these energy sources beamed in our
direction. But preferential beaming in our direction makes
little sense unless there is a message in these channels. A
similar remark might apply to pulsars.
There are a large number of other
incompletely understood phenomena, from Jovian decameter bursts
to the high time-resolution structure of X-ray emission which
might just conceivably be due to ETI. Perhaps, in the light of
Doctor Marx’s presentation, we must ask if the fine structure of
some fluctuating X-ray sources is due to pulsed X-ray lasers for
interstellar spaceflight. But Shklovsky’s principle of assuming
such sources natural until proven otherwise, of course, holds.
Extraterrestrial intelligence is the explanation of last resort,
when all else fails.
“The pulsar story clearly shows that
phenomena which at first closely resemble expected
manifestations of ETI may nevertheless turn out to be natural
objects – although of a very bizarre sort. But even here there
are interesting unexamined possibilities. Has anyone examined
systematically the sequencing of pulsar amplitude and
polarization nulls? One would need only a very small movable
shield above a pulsar surface to modulate emission to Earth.
This seems much easier than generating an entire pulsar for
For signaling at night it is easier
to wave a blanket in front of an existing fire than to start and
douse a set of fires in a pattern which communicates a desired
Sagan’s suggestion was not taken up by
the astronomical community. Astronomers were unwilling to (publicly)
consider an ETI-based source for the signals they were receiving.
One reason they gave (Jastrow and Thompson, 1977), was that the
pulse type of beacon was too wasteful of energy and wouldn’t be the
method they would choose.
In The Talk of the Galaxy (2000), astrophysicist Paul LaViolette
revives Sagan’s speculation.
Reviewing years of observations made
since that CETI conference in 1971, with particular attention to
high-resolution recordings of individual pulses, LaViolette finds
significant support for considering pulsars as possible ETI beacons.
He of course notes the difficulties presented to the standard model
by pulsars with millisecond periods.
But there have been many other
challenges to the model in the form of quite interesting features of
pulsar spatial distributions, and intricate behaviors seen in high-resolution recordings of individual pulses and pulse sequences.
Here is a brief listing of some behaviors found in the current
literature and discussed by LaViolette:
Time-Averaged Regularity -
Time-averaged pulse contours do not change over days,
months, or years. Timing of averaged profiles is similarly
Single-pulse Variability -
Timing and shape of individual pulses vary considerably.
Pulse Drifting (certain pulsars)
- Individual pulses occur successively earlier and earlier
within the averaged profile (“drifting pulsars”). For
certain drifting pulsars, drift rate abruptly shifts in
value. Or drift may be random with occasional recurring
Polarization Changes -
Polarization parameters vary within individual pulses, but
time-averaged profile of polarization is constant.
Micropulses - About half of
observed pulsars exhibit micropulses within individual
pulses. Micropulses typically last a few hundred
microseconds. Or they may have oscillatory periods.
Pulse Modulation - Signal
strength may wax and wane over a series of pulses. Or this
may be seen only when sampling every other pulse. Or maybe
only at particular times in the profile.
Pulse Nulling - Pulse
transmissions may be interrupted for seconds or hours. When
resumed, varying parameters continue from where they had
Mode Switching - More than one
stable pulsation mode, with sudden switching between them.
Pulse Grammar - “Grammatical”
Glitching - Pulse periods grow
at a uniform rate (as though spinning pulsar is slowing
down), but occasionally the period abruptly changes to a
smaller value (pulsar instantaneously assumes a higher
rotation rate?) and the sequence continues from there. When
averaged over several minutes or so, these complexities
disappear, leaving only extreme regularity.
The neutron star lighthouse model predicted that pulsars would be
formed in supernova explosions and in fact several of them have been
found near supernova remnants.
If that were truly how they were
formed, one would expect to find pulsars concentrated toward the
center of the galaxy where most supernovas occur. However, LaViolette has noticed that the distribution of observed pulsars in
the galactic plane differs markedly from that. (He also cites
studies of neutron stars associated with supernova remnants showing
that the stars were not formed in the supernovas.)
In fact, there is
a clumping of them near a point one radian north of the galactic
center. He depicts a sharp fall-off of pulsars just beyond that
point. He also noticed that some of the most unusual pulsars are
found right at that edge in the distribution.
The position of these anomalies at a one-radian angular distance
from the galactic center (g.c.) is especially odd because:
the radian is arguably a
natural angular unit that would be recognized by many societies
this particular angular position would exist only from a point of
view located exactly where we are – giving the impression of a
deliberate signal or sign to our society or any society at our
In the same vein, LaViolette points out that the two fastest known
pulsars are located at the two one-radian positions.
have other unique features that are listed by LaViolette. He also
looks at the constellations in which the pulsars appear, and finds
curious associations. The constellation Sagita (the “Celestial
Arrow”) is located “adjacent” to a one-radian point. The arrow of
Sagittarius’ bow (and the stinger of the Scorpion) designate the
galactic center, and the cross of Crucis marks the southern galactic
These star formations all involve “marker”
Since the system of constellations was presumably invented here in
our ancient cultural past, these oddly congruent associations
suggest the constellations may have been devised in such a way as to
embody and preserve knowledge of the significance of the pulsar
signals for the benefit of future civilizations.
Pulsars as Artifacts
Unlike Sagan, who accepted the conventional model of a pulsar but
wondered if ETI could be adding fine-grained modulation, LaViolette
proposes a way in which the steady emissions of stars could be
focused into the pulses we see. He explains that ETI might be using
a nearly-collimated beam of synchrotron radiation, applying
technology that we actually are developing today.
offsets the effect of distance on the detectability of a beacon over
Although we may now have or soon will have the capability to
transmit focused synchrotron beams, LaViolette’s postulated
transmitting society has access to energy on a scale far exceeding
ours. Although pulsars are probably not neutron stars, they are
still stars - white dwarfs modified to produce the pulsar signals.
The short of it is that we are observing a Kardashev/Kaku
civilization in terms of its ability to harness the total energy of
Impact of LaViolette’s Hypothesis
LaViolette’s hypothesis has received some interest in the borderland
science literature, but has not been taken very seriously by
I am not aware of any that have taken the trouble
to refute or even discuss his work; there also has been no follow-up
in terms of:
reviewing the published data from which he drew his
obtaining and reanalyzing any of the original data
on which the publications he used was based
more of the kinds of patterns noted by LaViolette in fresh pulsar
Proposal for a
Framework of Collaboration
The suggestions for studies that will be made in this proposal are
not the intellectual property of anyone, and therefore any persons
or groups may undertake to perform them. However, there would be
value in establishing a research group dedicated to these studies,
using e-mail, a list server, electronic forum, or some combination
of these, for developing a program of research and coordinating
An informal organization structure is envisaged, intended more to
promote, support, and share this research than to contain it.
The research program itself is a subject of discussion and will be
decided upon by the participant researchers.
However, to initiate
discussion, I here suggest a possible program. Studies would be
performed in a series of phases, each consisting of a number of
projects. Although the phases possess an intrinsic logical sequence,
they in fact can be conducted concurrently according to the choices
and predilections of participant researchers.
Accordingly, I term them Layers, as follows:
Layer 0 (Program Layer).
This is the meta-layer, the design and oversight of the
program itself. This activity will continue throughout the
duration of the program, setting and continually refining
its goals, and planning its future activities (i.e.,
creating, continuing, and terminating the other layers), in
response to the findings of the other layers.
Layer 1 (Validation
Layer). The validity of the issues raised by Dr. LaViolette
is addressed by this layer. It consists of two projects:
Literature Review. Assess
the accuracy of LaViolette’s presentation of published
pulsar studies,1 including his presentation
of pulsar spatial distributions based on information
contained in published pulsar catalogs.
Science Review. Assess the
adequacy of currently held pulsar models to explain
detailed pulsar behavior currently being observed and
reported. If existing physical models are found to be
inadequate, then anomalies are present, needing
alternative explanations. This project should be
performed by one or more astrophysicists with deep
background in pulsar research.
Layer 2 (Computing
Layer). This layer contains a number of projects devoted to
developing the computing environment and related resources
required for accessing and analyzing pulsar recordings.
Layer 3 (Replication
Layer). Using such high-resolution pulsar recordings as they
become available,2 and the computing facilities
developed in Layer 2, search for pulsar signal features
The purposes of this layer are:
to ensure that this entire
program is on solid footing
to acquire the capability of
accessing and deeply analyzing pulsar signal recordings
to enrich the set of
features under study
Layer 4 (Explanation
Layer). Assuming that verified anomalies are actually in
hand, begin to seek alternative explanations. Projects in
this layer must not proceed on the assumption of ETI origin,
but rather be willing to consider a wide range of possible
explanations not encompassed in any existing paradigm.
Layer 5 (Technology
Layer). Dr. LaViolette has suggested a number of
technologies that could be employed by an astro-engineering
society to generate the pulsar signals that we observe. He
provides enough details to launch a further investigation of
each of his ideas.
Plasma physicists and electrical
engineers might find it rewarding to explore these areas,
coordinating with those working in other layers of this
program both to point the way to further investigation and
to acquire detailed data that might assist them in
determining which technologies might actually be in use.
Layer 6 (Interpretation
Layer) LaViolette offers what I call a zero-order
interpretation of the pulsar signals: ET civilization
exists, and a first-order interpretation: the signals call
our attention to the existence and dangers of a galactic
superwave. But if the signals are truly an artifact of an
intelligent civilization, much more information is likely
contained in the details.
Researchers with a linguistic
bent will be called upon to begin the process of
interpreting the meanings possibly conveyed in the detailed
Layer 7 (Relativistic
Communications Layer). Dr. LaViolette calls attention to the
galactic scale of the communication system he is suggesting.
Any civilization that constructs such a system must not only
be of galactic size itself, but must be able to coordinate
its activities with superluminal rates of information
Projects in this layer will be
devoted to fleshing out the characteristics of communication
systems required to mount projects of the scale being
studied, and to relate that to current theories and
experiments that are leading our own society in the
direction of possible superluminal communication.
A possible sublayer could be a
much-needed reconsideration of the early twentieth-century
theories that led us to believe in the light-speed limit to
communications and physical travel.3
Layer 8 (Publications
Layer). Individual researchers associated with this program
are always at liberty to publish their work in any way they
choose. However, there would be value in an occasional
combined publication of current work being conducted in this
group. I envision this publication in the form of a series
of printed volumes, or perhaps special issues of scientific
I also would be happy to post
research papers and news of ongoing work in
Open SETI website or to help set up a new website
devoted to this research activity.
Literature references are found
in The Talk of the Galaxy.
Dr. LaViolette has obtained and
high-resolution recordings of the Vela pulsar.
Refer to the collection of
articles in Infinite Energy, Vol. 7, No. 28, July/August
Gold, T. Rotating neutron stars
as the origin of the pulsating radio sources. Nature 218:
Hewish A., Bell S. J.,
Pilkington J. D. H., Scott P. F., and Collins R. A.
Observation of a rapidly pulsating radio source. Nature 217:
Jastrow, R. and Thompson, M. H.
Astronomy: Fundamentals and Frontiers, Wiley (Out of print),
p. 198, 1977.
The Talk of the
Galaxy, Starlane, 192 p., 2000.
Sagan, C. Astroengineering
Activity: The Possibility of ETI in Present Astrophysical
Phenomena. In Communication with Extraterrestrial
Intelligence (ed. C. Sagan). MIT Press, 1973.
Sturrock, P. A. and Rockefeller,
L. S. The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence,
Aspect, 404 p., 2000.