Scientists at Arizona State University are urging managers at projects such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to look for evidence of alien civilizations close to home in addition to scanning cosmic radiation in hopes of finding patterns that could be alien radio signals.
If there are advanced alien civilizations in the galactic neighborhood, they may well have done more than just tried so send us radio signals, according to a paper published by Paul Davies and Robert Wagner in the journal Acta Astronautica.
If there are intelligent alien civilizations in our neighborhood of the galaxy, they may very well have visited Earth to observe a developing intelligence, or steal the idea for Facebook and take it back home to violate the privacy of alien species as well as domestic ones, according to the (liberally paraphrased) reasoning in the article
If aliens had stopped by, they would need a base of operations, preferably one that was undetectable by human technology at the time, but offered resources such as water, gravity and, apparently, lots and lots of dust.
Most science-fiction stories and alien invasion conspiracies posit a mother ship in orbit several hundred miles above the earth, rather than 238,857 miles away on the moon. Orbiting bases would allow shuttle craft to visit earth, kidnap and probe occupants, then return them to their native trailer-park habitats without having to travel the whole distance to the moon.
However, even for advanced civilizations, the distance between star systems is so huge that any ship arriving here would presumably need to replenish their food, water and fuel or (if Hollywood B movies of the '50s are any indication) be desperately in need of physically incompatible women in beehive hairdos who scream a lot.
Davies, by the way, is no crackpot; or at least he's not one without academic credentials. He's a theoretical physicist and cosmologist studying astrobiology – the origin and evolution of life – and founder of ASU's Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. (He's also giving a public lecture called "Time Travel: Can it really be done" at 7 PM Jan. 31 on the ASU Tempe campus – a lecture promoted using a poster with Dr. Who's TARDIS. That indicates, if nothing else, that he knows what science topics the public wants to hear about and in what obsolete police telephone-booth form it currently understands them.)
Wagner is an undergrad, but one majoring in space exploration and working as a research tech at the LRO Science Operations Center, working with the images he and Davies suggest might be a good start for a crowd-sourced search for aliens.
Would aliens have landed on the moon instead of in Area 51?
Except for the last, a place like the moon, where aliens could land and mine what they needed would be much better suited for a rest and replenishment stop than simply orbiting a planet from which every ounce of water, fuel or females would have to be lifted at great expense in power and fuel.
Landing on the moon – whose gravitational field is one-sixth that of Earth and therefore would make takeoffs and landings far less expensive, would be much more efficient, especially for a mother ship capable of landing once, mining what it needed, and taking off again rather than making dozens of shorter trips into Earth's much deeper gravity well, the two theorize.
The chance that alien explorers did come to Earth for a rest or to observe primates in their pre-space-flight developmental stages is small, Davies and Wagner admit. At least, the chance that they left definitive evidence of their presence on the moon is small.
That chance is at least as good – and much less expensive and time-consuming to investigate, however – than the chance aliens not only broadcast radio signals our way and that we could recognize and interpret those signals using existing radio telescopes and community-science projects such as SETI@home (which distributes bits of data to be analyzed to screen savers installed on hundreds of thousands of volunteered PCs) or the Galaxy Zoo (which sends pictures of individual galaxies to more than 150,000 volunteers and asks a series of questions that allow them to classify each according to shape, size, configuration and other standardized descriptions).
Davies and Wagner's assumption that it would be possible and cheap to find alien artifacts on the moon is based on the 192TB of data gathered so far by the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter, an observation satellite that orbits the moon every two hours, photographing its surface with a range of sophisticated sensors and broadcasting the result back to Earth.
"Existing searchable databases from astronomy, biology, earth and planetary sciences all offer low-cost opportunities to seek a footprint of extraterrestrial technology," Davies and Wagner wrote in Searching for Alien Artifacts on the Moon.
"Although there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon in the form of an artifact or surface modification of lunar features, this location has the virtue of being close, and of preserving traces for an immense duration.
Systematic scrutiny of the LRO photographic images is being routinely conducted anyway for planetary science purposes, and this program could readily be expanded and outsourced at little extra cost to accommodate SETI goals, after the fashion of the SETI@home and Galaxy Zoo projects." – P.C.W. Davies, R.V. Wagner, Acta Astronautica.
Searching the moon rather than other planetary bodies does is a little random, the two scientists admit.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligences hiding in our photo album
A lot of the reason behind the suggestion aliens might have landed on our moon has more to do with the number of good photos we have of the moon, rather than the greater likelihood that aliens would have landed there rather than elsewhere.
Davies and Wagner don't say the idea of searching existing photos of the moon for aliens is a lot like the guy whose wife found him crawling around the hall and asked him what he was doing.
"I lost a cufflink and I'm looking for it," he told her.
"Where did you lose it?"
"In the living room."
"Why are you looking for it in the hall?"
"Because the light is better out here."
The light, or at least the photos, of the moon are unquestionably better than those of anywhere else in the Solar System.
The moon is also close enough that even amateur astronomers would have a chance to spot alien artifacts with home telescopes as well as LRO photos.
Crowd-sourcing the search would also give professional astronomers time to focus on more important things – like mapping the course of meteors that could strike the Earth and destroy civilization – or trivial things like figuring out their belief that 95 percent of the mass of the universe is invisible to humans isn't insane or a gross miscalculation.
Forget SETI@Home, sign up for Aliens On Moon
Good old volunteer investigators, on the other hand, could find harder evidence of alien landings than crop circles, or even settle the other paranoid fantasy about the moon: That the whole "moon landing" thing was staged by Hollywood at the behest of The Government to trick the Russians, or sell more Wheaties or Tang or something. (Men in Black III is coming out May 25, 2012, by the way; here's the trailer.)
So if you have time and interest to pore over hundreds of high-resolution photos of gray meteor dust piled on airless rock, or have a telescope you use to watch things more celestial than your surprisingly limber neighbors, check seti.org once in a while, or NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Twitter feed.
No one has agreed to sponsor or participate in a crowd-sourced search for aliens on the moon, but you never know.
NASA has lots of astronomers, most of whom are sure to know the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012, which might give NASA decision-makers some sense of urgency about finding aliens before the End of Time. (Though both the NASAi with knowledge and those who make decisions are also pretty sure to know that just means we're missing the last stone tablet carved with the Mayan equivalent of 'Please order calendar refills, or upgrade to Mayan Calendar 2: Papyrus.')
And who knows, with enough pictures, examined by enough people, maybe people will begin to understand the distance, physics and importance of the universe outside our atmosphere well enough that they might be willing to actually pay to explore it.
Or, at the very least, with enough eyes on Neal Armstrong's footprints and the big piles of junk humans left on the moon, maybe they'll begin to believe that even humans might be capable of travelling through space as far as the moon, even if they don't come back to kidnap and probe people from trailer parks as proof they'd been there.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.