Is ETI Crying “Wolf”?
Is SETI Contact just around the Corner?
SETI contact? As of this date, we earthlings have not detected any technosignals revealing an extraterrestrial civilization. Or, have we?
Chinese sky ears have heard transient radio signals from deep space. Are they being sent to Earth from alien transmitters?
Time after time when intriguing signals have been picked up by radio receivers on Earth and analyzed, we get disappointed. Like the boy who cried “wolf” in Aesop’s fables, when protecting his sheep, the first responders expect to confront a real wolf. So, we expect to confront a real off-Earth civilization. But, alas, we get disappointed again and again.
SETI hears radio signals calling “wolf” when there is no wolf. My advice? Keep hope alive. Keep listening for SETI contact.
Chinese Ears are Listening
SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers around the world use radio astronomy to listen for signals indicating an intelligent source. Listening technology in China has taken a leap forward. Chinese scientists have made operational a five-hundred-meter aperture spherical radio telescope (FAST) and nicknamed it “Sky Eye.” Dr. Zhi-Song Zhang proudly announced that FAST identifies and ranks narrowband candidates for extraterrestrial signals. It scores candidates by the number of times a specific signal is seen at roughly the same sky position, same frequency, signal strength, and proximity to a nearby star of object of interest.
Zhang has reported that data regarding an exoplanet gathered in 2019 and analyzed in 2020 have exhibited “intriguing signals” that could be from ETI. America’s UAP Task Force has taken the data seriously.
Startled by this news, I quickly contacted some of my science colleagues, requesting their assessment of the Chinese report. Seth Shostak, a SETI Institute astronomer, zipped me an email saying, “My bet is they’re satellite transmitters. They’re EVERYWHERE.”
I also contacted Margaret Race, a SETI Institute astrobiologist. Marg’s research is primarily the search for microbial life within the solar system.
Marg zipped me an article from Futurism whose headline that makes her point. “Sorry, but New Signal is Definitely Not Aliens.” Citing Daniel Wertheimer at the University of California at Berkeley, the article continued. “The signals that we found so far are all [radio frequency] interference, they’re not from extraterrestrials, they’re from terrestrials.”
So, alas, false alarm in China. The boy had called “Wolf!” But, of course, there is no wolf here. Is it time to get discouraged? No, not yet.
In addition, Dr. Race tells me that astronomers have detected fast radio bursts (FRBs) coming from a magnetar in the Milky Way. Observations have been reported in major journals such as Nature Astronomy and Science. And, on On April 28, 2020, two telescopes in North America–the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) and the U.S. Survey for Transient Astronomical Radio Emission 2 (STARE2) picked up a powerful millisecond-duration burst in our Milky Way. Are these real wolves or fake wolves calling?
Don’t give up hope for SETI contact too soon!
Dr. Race adds, “ Every new bit of data is subject to interpretation, with scientists continuing to debate whether it’s a natural phenomenon–or a deliberate technological signal.” This story is not over. There just might be a new space neighbor ringing our telephone! Sooner or later, SETI contact will be with a real wolf.
Don’t give up hope for SETI contact too soon!
Postscript: SETI contact and Public Theology
In these Patheos posts on astrotheology, I have contended that the public theologian develop a theology of nature based upon the best science. And, a theology of nature includes speculations about extraterrestrial life. Because the science of astrobiology along with the less respected yet still very important UFO phenomenon both have an enormous effect on our worldview, the public theologian should be applying a theology of culture to what is happening in both the sciences and the wider culture. Astrobiology–the almost already religious science because space elicits such a sense of awe–leads to astrotheology on the part of the public theologian. Please expect from me a constant monitoring of excitement over the prospects of sharing our cosmos with extraterrestrial neighbors, both microbial and intelligent.
Ted Peters hopes to meet extraterrestrial neighbors either through SETI contact or UFO visitation. Peters is an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union, where he co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. He authored Playing God? Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom? (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2002) as well as Science, Theology, and Ethics (Ashgate 2003). Along with Martinez Hewlett, Joshua Moritz, and Robert John Russell, he co-edited, Astrotheology: Science and Theology Meet Extraterrestrial Intelligence (2018). Along with Octavio Chon Torres, Joseph Seckbach, and Russell Gordon, he co-edited, Astrobiology: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy (Scrivener 2021). He is also author of UFOs: God’s Chariots? Spirituality, Ancient Aliens, and Religious Yearnings in the Age of Extraterrestrials (Career Press New Page Books, 2014). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.