‘Rather than transmitting radio
would find it far more efficient
to send us a “message in a
some kind of physical message
inscribed on matter.
And it could be waiting for us
in our own backyard.’
Professor Christopher Rose
of Rutgers University, New Jersey &
a physicist with Antiope Associates, New
The idea that intelligent life forms might exist elsewhere in
the cosmos is a comparatively recent interest for humanity.
thousands of years and across countless cultures, it was more or
less accepted that anything dwelling outside our own immediate
environment inevitably fell into the classification of a god or a
servant of the gods, such as the saints, angels or seraphim that
inhabit the heaven of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Even after the telescope appeared, around the year 1600, the
Catholic Church in particular
was not keen to have its dogmas regarding the nature of the Earth
and its relationship with space tampered with in any way. In
Christian doctrine, the Sun and the Moon have both been directly
created by God, as have the stars and planets. The first book of the
Bible, Genesis, lay down the order in which God created the
observable cosmos and anyone who seemed to be throwing a spanner in
the works, for example Galileo (1564-1642) who suggested that the
Sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the solar system, was
liable to be severely censured. Galileo was forced to recant his
heretical views and was condemned to perpetual house arrest but was
probably lucky to escape with his life.
Even before Galileo's time, thinking people were not fooled by the
Church's account of the solar system. The Portuguese navigator
Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) understood what he was seeing at the
time of a lunar eclipse: 'The church says the earth is flat, but I
know it is round for I have seen its shadow on the moon and I have more faith in a shadow than the church.'
Only the effects of the Renaissance and Church reformations across
Europe broke the hold of old church dogma. By the late seventeenth
century, with telescopes proliferating and almost anyone able to
take a close-up view of the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, the cat
was truly out of the bag and the genuine nature of the solar system
in particular was beginning to become apparent.
Since Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species in the
mid-nineteenth century it has
become clear that life on Earth has evolved over billions of years
from the first single-cell entities through to all of the creatures
in the world today. Darwin's ideas were argued over fiercely at the
time, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics,
zoology, molecular biology and many other fields gradually
established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt.
It is ironic, therefore, that the most scientifically advanced
nation the world has ever known, the United States, has large
numbers of 'Creationists' - people who still cling to the teachings
of the mediaeval Church. They are currently trying to persuade
politicians, judges and the general public that evolution is an
unproven myth cobbled together by atheists. They lobby
for their ideas, such as 'intelligent design', to be taught as
alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. Their proponents
admit that their aim is to keep the scriptures of the Christian
religion taught in school as the word of God, rather than a
collection of ancient Jewish texts.
Their arguments against Darwin's concept of 'natural selection' are
not well reasoned or based on any norm al principle of modern
science. These people appear to be intellectually stuck, hundreds of
years in the past, at a time before masses of new data became
available. However, it is interesting to note that academics once
thought like this too.
Dr John Lightfoot, the Vice-chancellor of
the University of Cambridge was not frightened of being precise
about the origin of the entire Universe when he said in 1642:
'Heaven and earth, centre and
circumference, were created together, in the same instant, and
clouds of water... This work took place and man was created... on
the 17th of September 3928 BC at nine o'clock in the morning.'
Dr Lightfoot seems to have been ignorant of even the most basic
facts of science.
He clearly did not realize that there is no such
thing as nine o'clock in the morning because every hour of the day
exists simultaneously on our revolving planet; it just depends where
you are standing. Happily, the very year that Lightfoot made this
statement, a baby boy was born in the village of Woolsthorpe in
Leicestershire. The infant's name was Isaac Newton and he went on to
become Cambridge University's most famous professor and a man that
would create a leap forward in humankind's understanding of the
Newton however, did not dismiss the role of God as he wrote on
prophecy, the decipherment of which he saw as being essential to the
understanding of God. His book on the subject espoused his view that
Christianity had gone astray in 325 AD, when the crumbling Roman
Empire declared that Jesus Christ was not a man but an aspect of
the very deity that
had built the Universe.
Today we have the benefit of masses of data from all kinds of
disciplines that point to the Earth being nearly five billion years
old, but many creationists frequently quote the chronology produced
by James Ussher who was Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All
Ireland in the early seventeenth century. His analysis, based on his
interpretation of the King James Bible, allowed him to confidently
declare that the creation of the world
occurred in 4004 BC.
Such a dating raises all kinds of problems, from fitting in the
obvious existence of dinosaurs, for example, to the fact that the
city of Jericho, near to the River Jordan, has been continuously
occupied for 10,000 years. (Interestingly, the origin of the name
'Jericho' is Canaanite and means 'the Moon').
There are creationist websites that put forward 'evidence' that
their writers believe demonstrates that people and dinosaurs lived
at the same time - presumably around the time that the Megalithic
Yard was being introduced! But these are not fringe ideas as there
are large numbers of people who believe that geological time is a
myth. According to a survey run by the Gallup Organization in 1999,
the majority of Americans educated up to high school level or less,
believe that God created humans in their present form within the
past 10,000 years or so. And a worrying forty-four per cent of
college graduates believe the same.
An international research team led by scientists at the University
of British Columbia sees
the creation as being a little earlier than Dr Lightfoot and
Archbishop Ussher. Professor Harvey Richer, the study's principal
investigator, confirmed previous research that sets the age of the
Universe at thirteen to fourteen billion years. The team measured
the brightness and temperatures of white dwarf stars (the burned-out
remnants of the earliest stars which formed in our galaxy) because
they are 'cosmic clocks' that get fainter as they cool in a very
More recent calculations, by Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve
University and Brian
Chaboyer at Dartmouth College, published in the journal Science, put
the Universe at anything up to twenty billion years old.
Creationists often try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to
science's current inability to explain the origin of life. John Rennie, the editor in chief of Scientific American has countered
'...even if life on Earth turned out to have a non- evolutionary
origin (for instance, if alien's introduced the first cells billions
of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed
by countless micro-evolutionary and macro-evolutionary studies.'
It is true that, whilst science can explain how life has evolved on
Earth, the way it all began is a complete mystery.
And, as far as we
know, the Earth is the only location where life exists.
In the nineteenth century some people speculated that there might be
life, or even people, living on the Moon. It is now certain that no
natural life could exist on the Moon, which is a barren world
constantly irradiated by the Sun and lacking in both available
surface water and a sufficiently dense atmosphere to support life.
There was a more recent time when Venus, the second planet out from
the Sun, seemed a potential candidate for some type of life because
its dense clouds hid the surface from view so that, for all we knew,
it might be as green and verdant as that of the Earth. But as we now
know, it is furnace hot and continually subjected to sulphuric acid
As a result, the chances for life seem almost
Mars is certainly cooler and there may be water existing near its
polar regions. At the time of writing this book, some people are
still clinging to the possibility that there could be some sort of
primitive life on Mars either now, or at some time in its remote
past. If it does exist at all, life on Mars is likely to be
Other planets in the solar system, being gaseous
giants in the main, are even less likely to support any sort of life
as we know it.
By far the majority of experts now accept that if advanced life of
any sort does exist in places other than the Earth, we will almost
certainly have to look deep into interstellar space to find it. Our
solar system is only one of many that undoubtedly exist, even in our
own corner of space.
Astronomers have identified suns that have
planets orbiting them and it is estimated there are a thousand million stars in our own galaxy, any one of which could possess a
planetary system where life might have evolved and flourished.
Beyond our galaxy there are countless others, so it
may be wrong to
think that only our tiny little blue planet, amidst such a
proliferation of planet-bearing suns, has produced a thinking
species such as our own.
But as far as we know right now, we are alone.
Once the sheer size of space was ascertained it also became apparent
that even if there are hundreds or thousands of intelligent species
out there, the chances of us actually encountering them in any way
is quite small. Distance is a problem but it isn't the only one.
of the greatest stumbling blocks could be time itself. In order for
us to communicate with another advanced species, it would have to
have reached at least our level of sophistication either at the same
time as us or shortly before. Although humanity has created at least
a couple of probes that are presently leaving the environs of our
own solar system, it will be decades, or maybe centuries, before we
embark on interstellar space travel to any significant extent.
if we do, the answers we are looking for, in term s of finding other
intelligent beings, are likely to be protracted.
The thought of any spacecraft travelling faster than the speed of
light remains in the realms of science fiction. If, as Einstein
proposed, light speed is as fast as anything can ever travel, it
would take many years merely to reach the nearest star.
beyond our own galaxy, the Milky Way, would seem impossible because
the next nearest place we could visit is the Sagittarius Dwarf
galaxy which has 'only' a few million stars and is a staggering
80,000 light years away. The next nearest galaxy is the Large
Magellanic Cloud and that is 170,000 light years distant.
Setting out to actually meet our intergalactic or extragalactic
cousins seems to be a hopeless
idea, even if we knew where they were located. So does this mean we
can never say hello to any of them? Not necessarily. If we cannot
greet them face-to-face, it might be
possible to listen to them .
Much of the energy so created stream s out into space as electromagnetic radiation. There are
many wavelengths of this radiation,
some of which are familiar to us in our daily lives. The full
panoply of this radiation is known as the 'electromagnetic
The shortest of the wavelengths are those we call 'gamma
waves'. At the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum are extremely long radio waves, which we harness every day. Visible light is
also a component of the electromagnetic spectrum, as are the
microwaves used daily in many cookers.
In fact we are getting radio messages from all parts of the cosmos
all the time. These are emitted by suns and other much stranger
bodies within our own galaxy and beyond it, as a result of the
physical processes taking place within them. Electromagnetic
radiation travels across the near vacuum of space at the speed of
Once it was realized that we could listen in on the processes
taking place in our stellar backyard and beyond, radio astronomy was
In 1931 an American engineer by the name of Karl Jansky, who was
working for the Bell Telephone Laboratories, was conducting
experiments into interference that was taking place across certain
He built a succession of aerials and managed to
isolate three distinct sources of radio interference or static.
Firstly he could detect local thunderstorms; and secondly, storms
taking place at a greater distance. However, there was a third
source of interference that was steady and always present which he
couldn't, at first, identify.
By moving his aerials, Jansky was
eventually able to isolate the source of this third form of radio
interference. To his own and many other people's great surprise it
was coming from within the Milky Way and in fact it originated at
the very centre of our own galaxy.
Like many controversial discoveries Jansky's were ignored for some
years. But not everyone was skeptical. Reading about Jansky's
observations, in 1937 another radio engineer, Grote Reber, built his
own aerial, though this one would have been more familiar to a
modern radio astronomer because it was a dish.
Reber also picked up
the strange 'messages' from space.
Interest in the signals from space gradually increased. In 1942 a
British Army officer, J.S. Hay, made the first observations of radio
emissions from our own Sun, whilst working on ways to jam German
Once the Second World War was over, radio astronomy
really took off and within a few years discrete signals from all
parts of space were being received. Ultimately a background radio
source was recognized that could not be isolated to a particular
point in space and it was finally realized, in the 1960s, that this
was the signal left by the Big Bang - the very birth of the Universe
Of course, all the signals that were being received were perfectly
natural in origin.
towards the end of the 1950s it began to occur to a number of those
involved in radio astronomy that if any species out there in space
was already more advanced than we were, it might well make use of
radio waves in order to let us know it existed.
Most radio signals
received from space can be readily identified and even those that
proved to be a puzzle at first have been shown to have a natural
But if an advanced species actively wanted to send a message, it would not be difficult for it to use a type of radio
signal that could not be confused with that created by any natural
phenomena - for example, one containing an obvious mathematical
In 1961, when the 'race for space' had fired the imagination of a
generation, a new organization came into existence.
It was called
SETI - 'the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence'. SETI was
primarily the brainchild of an enthusiastic young electrical
engineer turned radio astronomer by the name of Frank Drake, a
31-year-old engineer who had become interested in radio astronomy
whilst at Harvard Graduate School.
Drake was fascinated by the prospect of radio astronomy being used
to identify other intelligent species in the cosmos and thought that
we should be actively listening in for any message that might be
transmitted from deep space.
Together with another interested
scientist, J. Peter Pearman, an officer on the Space Board of the
National Academy of Sciences, Drake arranged the first SETI
Anxious to show the world just how likely extraterrestrial life
surely was, Drake came up
with what is now known as the 'Drake Equation'. This reached the
conclusion that there must be many thousands of intergalactic
civilizations capable of creating and sending radio messages across
The idea of SETI was immediately popular with the public and for a
NASA had some involvement. During the 1960s and '70s, NASA's
contribution was fairly low- key, but in 1992 NASA initiated a much
more formal SETI program.
Unfortunately, less than a year later, the United States Congress
cancelled the funding and NASA, reluctantly, pulled out of the SETI
research program. This certainly wasn't the end of the story
because a proportion of the intended NASA research was taken over by
the non-profit-making SETI Institute and by an associated body, the
SETI has now enlisted the help and support of people from around the
globe. Many computer users are regularly sent packages of
information received by SETI, in order that it can be analyzed
during computer down time. Millions of individuals are involved in
what is known as the SETI@home project at the present time.
Exactly where in the electromagnetic spectrum we should be listening
for deliberately created messages from the stars was decided in
Phillip Morrison and Giuseppe Cocconi, two young physicists at
Cornell University in the United States had co-operated to submit an
article to the prestigious science journal, Nature, which appeared
in September 1959. It was entitled 'Searching for Interstellar
When trying to ascertain which part of the
electromagnetic spectrum to monitor for alien signals, Morrison and Cocconi ultimately opted for a frequency of
Not only does
this frequency fall in a very 'quiet' part of the available spectrum, it also represents the emission frequency of the most common
element in the Universe, which is hydrogen. Morrison and Cocconi
believed that any intelligent species would realize these two facts
and so would therefore be most likely to transmit a greeting at or
around this frequency.
Some promising messages have been received across the last three
decades but, in the end,
all of them turned out to be natural phenomena. Space can supply
some surprisingly 'ordered' signals. Rapidly spinning objects in
space known as 'pulsars' are a good case in question, so SETI
experts are extremely careful and also deeply skeptical when any
apparent 'letter from the stars' is announced.
One of the greatest problems for SETI, or indeed anyone trying to
pick up a message from
space, is knowing exactly what to expect. It is certain that any
species sending such a message will be in advance of us
technologically because if the message received comes from deep
space it must have taken thousands or even millions of years to
The culture that sent it might, by the time it is
received, have disappeared, advanced even further or simply become
bored with the whole notion. All we can do is to take an educated
guess and suppose that for any species there will be commonality in
term s of the irrefutable laws of physics.
We may receive a logically repeating mathematical sequence such as
pi or a list of prime numbers, it is simply impossible to know.
There are skeptics around who suggest that the whole process of
looking for such a message is destined to fail, if only because
other intelligent species out in space may be so different to us
that there would be no points of contact recognizable on both sides.
In other words, they may be trying to contact us right now and we
understand the message.
By the summer of 2004 we were already beginning to reach our own
conclusions about how an intelligent species from elsewhere might
have already contacted us - humanity simply had not recognized the
fact yet. Serendipity being what it is, an article appeared in the
August 2004 edition of New Scientist.
It was written by Paul Davies,
a scientist at The Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie
We found it pleasing that a respected scientist
was publicly discussing the idea that an alien culture may have put
a message intended for us in place many millions of years ago: a
message, that Professor Davies also likens to the plot of the film
2001: A Space Odyssey.
Whilst congratulating SETI for its efforts to track down incoming
messages from space, Paul
Davies makes the suggestion that to try and contact humanity by way
of radio signals might prove to be fairly unreliable for any alien
species far away.
He points out that the problem of 'timing' might
make radio contact difficult, if not impossible. No matter how many
such intelligent societies there might be, the chance of them
transmitting during the short time slot during which we have been
listening is very remote.
Is it not possible, Davies asks, whether
such a culture, probably immeasurably older than our own, may have
conceived of a much more reliable way to let us know of its
Might it not have opted for a method of communication that was not
dependent upon transmitting signals for many millions of years in
the hope that we, or someone like us, had just evolved the ability
to decipher messages in the form of radio waves? Would it not be more likely that our intergalactic cousins would have chosen something much more timeless?
This suggestion, when we read it near the start of Davies' article,
made us sit upright and
pay attention because we were already asking ourselves the same
question. Davies goes on to suggest that, rather than radio
messages, a far more reliable way for any alien species to contact
us would be to leave artifacts in the vicinity of planets likely to
spawn intelligent life that, given sufficient advancement on the
part of such a developing species, it could not fail to recognize.
Then we came across yet more heavyweight scientists with similar,
highly logical, thought.
Professor Christopher Rose of Rutgers
University in New Jersey and Gregory Wright, a physicist with Antiope Associates also in New
Jersey, have stated that the
transmission of a radio signal by an extraterrestrial civilization,
that would probably have to be detected 10,000 light years away,
does not make sense.
They suggest that it would be far more
efficient to send us some kind of physical message inscribed on
physical matter - a kind of 'message in a bottle'. And, they
believe, such a message could already be waiting for us in our
Rose observed that:
'If energy is what you care about, it's
tremendously more efficient to toss a rock.'
Once radio signals pass
us by they are gone for ever, so aliens would have to beam signals
continuously as we have only had radio for a miniscule fraction of
our existence as an advanced species.
We had to ask ourselves, what if that physical object was the Moon
and the information is there for us to see - once we understand the
If the Moon does hold a message, it would be exactly what Paul
Davies called a 'set and
forget' technique that would survive for millions or even billions
of years. Any conventional sort
of physical structure, no matter how impressive, would eventually
crumble under geological
forces, especially on a very active planet such as our own.
out that the possibilities for a
'letter from the stars' that can survive eons are actually very
limited indeed. In the end such a
'physical' message needs to be either extremely large or extremely
small - and as we were to
We had already uncovered a wealth of published academic material
that points to the Moon being the single most important factor in
the development and nurturing of complex life forms on the planet
Quite simply, if the Earth is thought of as an incubator for
life - the Moon is the carefully programmed machine that monitors
and stabilizes the process. A real life- support system.
This may be a wonderful coincidence of epic proportions, or it
could be yet another miracle
to ignore as an inevitable consequence of the 'Anthropic Principle'.
Whether or not the suggestion put forward by Davies has any merit,
it was the second time in a month during which perfectly respectable
and serious scientists had published articles dealing honestly with
the possibility that we are not alone in the Universe and that other
species may be trying, or might have tried in the past, to contact
Whilst we are delighted with the open-minded attitude that seems
to be developing with regard to this subject it is our profound
belief that the message, for which SETI, Paul Davies and Rose and
Wright are seeking, is right in front of our eyes.
It has been there
as long as humanity has existed and what it has to tell us is
breathtaking in its implications.
A Potential Message?
At this point we asked ourselves what would a message look like
that had been planted on Earth or in its immediate environs and
which was intended to survive for a huge period of time.
we reasoned, it would have to be recognizable, so it could be
clearly interpreted as a message before its contents could be
deciphered. Secondly, it would need to be either extremely large or
else very small in order to survive the destructive power of
geology and weather systems.
In Clarke and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, the technique used by
the unknown aliens
was to have a major anomaly that could only be detected by a
technically competent species. By
placing objects with huge mass under the surface of the Moon the
aliens knew they would be easy to spot in a place where there was
little else to distract.
But in that story the purpose of the
gravitational anomalies was not to communicate with the new species
- it was to send a message back to the aliens that the local
creatures had reached a specific level of intelligence.
So, an anomaly of this sort might be enough to alert an unknown
species, such as our own,
that there is a message waiting. The next step would be for those
planting the message to ensure that the target species understood
that it was addressed to them.
It has long been agreed that numbers are the best way to communicate
creatures from another world. Hieroglyphs or any kind of marks are
unlikely to be understood without any point of reference, just as
there was no way to understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs until
the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799.
This inscribed artifact
from the second century BC gave the same text in both Greek and
hieroglyphs; thereby providing the key to understanding a lost
If numbers are used in such a message they need to have a
pattern, however they are communicated, so that they stand out
against the background 'noise' of number values that surround us
Even then, it is extremely challenging to think of
numbers that are certain to be spotted once they are planted in our
The safest method would be to use ratios that stand
out, because ratios are not dependent on units of measurement or any
chosen base (e.g. base ten in everyday usage or base two [binary] as
used in computing).
But it occurred to us that we were examining this process backwards,
because we started out by being alerted to major anomalies
specifically related to the Moon. Not only does it appear very
unlikely that the Moon could have occurred naturally in the first
place, it also turns out that it has been the incubation machine
that so perfectly nurtured life.
We now needed to go back to our starting position and look at the
numbers that had fallen out of the
Earth-Moon-Sun relationship in terms of ratios and to those
measurements that stood out so well when we applied Megalithic units
The first and most obviously strange thing about the Moon is how it
appears to be the same
size as the Sun when viewed from Earth. It is 400 times smaller and
400 times closer to the Earth than the Sun.
Assuming for a moment
that this might be the first part of a calling card from an unknown
source rather than just a bizarre coincidence, we have to note three
It is designed
meaningful only to
intelligent creatures living on the Earth's surface.
It is designed to be noticed at this specific
point in time, give or take a million years or so each way,
because the Moon only behaves in the way it does at this time.
It appears to be addressed to a species with ten fingers, because
relationship of that between the Moon and the Sun is such a round
number when expressed in base ten (e.g. in base eight the ratio
would be one to 620).
Now we will speculate that the ratio of the Moon and the Sun just
might be pointing to a deliberately created message. In order to do
so, we must suspend all preconceptions of what seems sensible and
consider instead what under normal circumstances might be judged
We will therefore temporarily accept that points 1, 2 and 3 above
are valid and that someone or something is trying to direct the
attention of Earthlings, sporting ten digits and living
during this particular point in time, to look at the Moon as a
So, here we go!
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