If space aliens ever discover cell phones or cable TV, they'll be able to hide from us forever.
That's the verdict of scientists smirking at eccentric billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. He put up money for the Paul Allen Array, a group of 350 20-foot-wide, radio antennae in the Cascade mountains that's managed by the SETI Institute, space-alien-hunting nonprofit located 30 miles south of San Francisco.
But some smarty-pants professors say Allen's investment is premised on the quaint idea that Martians might communicate with unscrambled radio-wave-emitting walkie-talkies while watching rabbit-ear TVs, The Economist reports.
Thanks to the efforts of Jill Tarter, the astrophysicist portrayed by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie Contact
, the Bay Area is the center of the space-alien hunting universe.
Despite its far-out pretensions, the science has remained pretty much the same as it was depicted in the film: Build ever-more powerful radio telescopes, attached to ever greater computing power to make sense of the incoming hiss, and eventually we'll receive the alien equivalent of a Mary Tyler Moore broadcast.
Like their less-evidence-obsessed kin, UFO buffs, scientific alien hunters are a touchy group. Question the fact they've spent millions of dollars from NASA and other sources with nothing to show for it, and they'll respond that, with enough dishes and computers, they'll change the history of the world. Allen's been on board for a while now, and the Allen Array was sort of an end-all fuck you to non-believers.
Now though, a new group of smirking kids in the back row has emerged. Scientists at Arizona State University and elsewhere say if they're anything like humans', alien cell phones "will use signals that look like background noise, except to receivers equipped with the right unscrambling code," The Economist
Humans figured this out within a century of inventing radio technology, so aliens might have done the same. Radio signals that are clearly artificial in origin may, then, be only a transient sign of civilisation. So it might make sense to widen the search by looking for other telltales.
Which ones? Nutty space-alien scientists are glad you asked. The Economist
is an eccentric British magazine. And it cites a retired physicist who recommends we read a 1970 sci-fi novel called Ringworld,
which posits space aliens completely encapsulating their sun with inward-turned solar panels.
The solar panels would re-emit infra-red rays, which could be detected by specially-equipped earth-based telescopes.
Next step: Recruit a dreamy, retired tech billionaire to pay for a self-named array of the things.