SETI’s focus was on the radio part of the spectrum. But of course, since we don’t know what might be out there, we have to explore all wavebands: the optical band and the X-ray band. Even if messages are sent, we may not recognize them as artificial because we may not know how to decode them. Consider the difficulty that a veteran radio engineer, familiar with twentieth-century amplitude modulation, would have in decoding modern radio communications.
Finding inorganic intelligence also means paying attention to evidence of abnormal phenomena or activity – even within our solar system. It was true that the Green Bank Telescope remained pointed at ‘Oumuamua, the anomalous object that recently passed through our region and is thought to have originated from outside our solar system. It’s also worth keeping our eyes open for bright or oddly shaped objects lurking among the asteroids. We may also need to look for evidence of unnatural construction projects, such as the Dyson Sphere, a giant hypothetical energy-harvesting structure built around a star.
In short, astronomers like me should expect surprises. We have to be open and make sure we don’t miss anything strange.
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Scientists still don’t know if the origin of life was rare and only happened here on Earth. But if that were not the case, and if life began elsewhere, intelligence could evolve in all sorts of ways. There are planetary systems out there At least a billion years older than our planetSo it is possible that intelligence has already evolved into something inorganic.
Maybe everything that exists does not evolve by Darwinian selection: it would be what I call “secular intelligent design” which is a bit like machines designing better machines. And although it may not broadcast its presence to us, it can be found throughout the universe.
*This article as narrated by Richard Fisher. Lord Martin Rees is the Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom, based at the University of Cambridge. His latest book is If science is to save usAnd The end of the astronautsco-authored by Donald Goldsmith.
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