Due to governmental cutbacks, SETI has now been trimmed from the expenses at the NSF and Berkeley. Whereas I’m sad to see it on pause (in that a positive result from SETI would be about the most important single advancement of human culture since the development of fire), the program is, at least, still able to run provided sufficient private funds. (In other words, it hasn’t been canceled, it’s merely on hiatus.)
In the previous post on the topic, I had mentioned that I’ve for some time thought that the best thing that we could do to move toward the goal of communicative contact with other intelligent organisms would be to maintain a proactive stance and build a high-powered radio tower on the backside of the moon.
Such a thing would be conveniently out of sight from Earth, in that the moon’s rotation is locked to its orbit, meaning that the same face of the moon is always facing us. The part not facing us, will always not face us (or if the moon will eventually rotate around, it will take so long that we can easily move any structure to the new back-side of the moon in that time), and conveniently, a beacon on the back-side of the moon will face all 360 degrees (in the orbital plane) of the sky as the moon orbits the Earth. However, since the backside of the moon never faces Earth, we could broadcast a strong signal from a tower in that area and not worry too much about interference on Earth.
It could even be powered by large solar arrays, such that, when facing the sun, it could harvest energy for the dark days. What sort of signal to beam is another problem for another time, and I will probably give my thoughts about that in the future.
The difficulty with the above project, of course, is that creation and maintenance of such a beacon would be really quite expensive, and this (with the previous remark about SETI’s financial woes) has me falling in line with some of the recent explanations for Fermi’s Paradox — that we will never hear anything coming from the heavens because the other civilizations probably expanded to a point where they ran out of money. (Heck, we’ve run out of money to even listen in!) And, forced to deal with local economic issues rather than interstellar ones, they, too, did not find it prudent to apportion the money to build or operate beacons aimed at long-shot communication with other cultures or life-forms. Such a thing is necessarily secondary to survival.
As a scientist, and thinking in terms of the possible overall advancement of a SETI success, I find the hiatus frustrating, in a way, because it sort of feels like, as a species, we are sitting home alone because we can’t afford to go out to hang with our friends. (Or, more aptly, we can’t afford to pay the phone bill to chat with our friends.) I would say that here is yet another prime example of a place that the private sector could step in and succeed where the governments have failed, but control of broadcast could then become an issue — what sort of programming would we blast into the starry heavens? Should control of that material be in the hands of a few, or should we have a collective say into the message we send out? Would the RIAA want a say?
In any regard, here’s hoping that someday we manage to stand ourselves back up as a species, pick up the phone again, and continue in our attempts to call our neighbors.