Airdate: Apr 11, 2000
Scientist: Kent Cullers
Listening to the Universe: False Alarms
Scientists monitoring electromagnetic signals from outer space are sometime tricked into thinking that a complex sound is a coded message from intelligent beings.
In the continuing search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, scientists are monitoring electromagnetic signals, such as radio waves, from outer space. Well, it turns out that there are many different kinds of signals out there, but so far they've all been traced to natural phenomena. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.
"We made simple tests that define intelligence. They look for energy that's either concentrated in frequency or concentrated in time."
Kent Cullers is a physicist with the SETI Institute. SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
ambience: Pulsar A
Let me play a signal that is concentrated in time. That signal, that clicking that you hear, was, in fact, originally identified as a possible extraterrestrial intelligence signal. Actually, that signal came from a pulsar, a rotating neutron star and as the magnetic beam from that star flicked across the earth you got a pulse of energy which was basically a click."
ambience: Pulsar B
Using radio telescopes, scientists have detected other signals from deep space which also might be mistaken as coming from ET. "That sound makes one think that probably there's a complex, encoded message, that's coming from thousands of light years away from the earth. This too, when properly analyzed, is seen to be a pulsar, only in this case, there's not just one magnetic field so you don't just get a simple click as the star rotates and the energy passes by you, its got a complicated magnetic field and you get this complex clicking sound. And so complexity is not a guarantee of intelligence from space."
We'll hear more about listening to the sounds of the universe in future programs.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.