The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – Part III

July 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

 You can read the first two installments of this interview here: Part I & Part II

An Interview with @SETINET (aka James Brown) Part III


  1. J.S: Could ET be enjoying old “I Love Lucy” reruns right now? Could we watch their old “I Love Klaatu” reruns?

SETI Net: It’s possible that ET could be curled up on the couch watching Lucy being told by Ricky, “Lucy, you got a lot of splanen to do,” but the odds are against it. For one interstellar communication takes a huge amount of transmitting power to overcome the distance between stars, even close ones, and to do that the transmitter and receiver would have to be pointed at each other with dishes the size of Arecibo. TV signals were never focused like that. They were intended to reach a wide area with as little power as possible.

The second thing is that the era of high power TV transmitters is coming to end here on Earth and really only lasted about fifty years.  Now days your TV most likely comes from cable or from satellites both of which emit next to nothing that could be picked up by ET. The Earth as seen from space in the radio spectrum is beginning to become quite.

So watching for extraneous signals is almost a hopeless cause.  It’s my belief that the only signal we have a hope of finding is a beacon intentionally sent from ETs home planet directly to our star and the planets surrounding it.  That is what my station is optimized to find—a beacon.

J.S.: Well, it’s a relief ET might not see some of our less-than-intelligent TV shows in their first encounter with us. But, for an even more important question…

  1. J.S.: Will they come eat our brains?

SETI Net That actually is a serious question. There are plenty of examples from our own history that tell of the collision of cultures that ended with one or the other being enslaved or wiped out altogether.

It’s my opinion that, sooner or later, we will come to the point where we will simply have to roll the dice and take our changes. That’s the nature of it.

I say bring on the Brain Eaters.

J.S: Hmm, The Attack of the Brain Eaters—that sounds like a good title for a book…but I digress.

  1. J.S.: How much did SETI Net cost to build? How much did other SETI stations cost? How much does this cost the taxpayer? Could anyone build one? Is there a way to make money at this?

SETI Net: Over the years I have spent considerable money building SETI Net.  At one time, I laid out $1,000 for a rotor to turn my antenna and another $500 for the antenna itself. I also bought a hard disk for one of my early computers that cost $1,500, and it had the amazing (for the time) storage capacity of 15 Megabytes. My first floppy disk drive cost $2,000 and so on.

The point is that changes in technology have brought the cost of duplicating SETI Net down to no more than about $2,000 total and dropping fast. I just bought a receiver from Amazon for $15 new that is as good, or better, than the old used receivers I bought for $500 each, years ago.

Other stations, like the ATA cost well over $30 million, none of it tax money, but that’s a whole different scale of system.

Could anyone build one? I don’t think so. It’s a labor of love and needs someone who has the ability to construct heavy equipment, like the rotors and dish, the knowledge of electronics the keep the hardware running, and the a wish to spend long hours writing software for new features. 

That narrows it down to say 10,000 people in the world. My wish is that at least one of those people will contact me so that a second system could be constructed, to quickly find and resolve signals.

Is there anyone out there? Call—I’m waiting.

J.S.: Wow, those last two lines are appropriate in more ways than one. Did you realize your were doing that when you wrote them, or was it just a coincidence?

SETI Net – Not a coincidence at all. I have offered to work with anyone that has the time, money and inclination to build a second station. I could supply the software for no charge and work with that person to modify it for their station. So far no takers.

J.S.: I meant that you asked: Is there anyone out there? Call—I’m waiting. This is what you do with SETI—you ask if anyone (ET) is out there—you’re waiting! Thought the wording was “ironic” (not the proper use of the term, ironic, I know, but you know what I mean).

SETI Net: Irony is not my long suit, besides I don’t speak ET. I meant if there is anyone that wants to work with me, jump in.

J.S.: You say what you mean and mean what you say! I like that. But I saw some irony in it, even if that’s not the proper use of the term. J

  1. J.S.: What would be the effect of finding ET on the average person? Would finding ET be a threat to religion?

SETI Net: I really have no idea. I used to think that it would cause mass panic in the streets, but now I believe that the public has become so blasé about startling new ideas that it may not cause a ripple. After all, it’s a pretty well-established fact that the Universe Big Bang started from absolutely nothing (zero, nada), and that matter continuously pops in and out of existence all time, and there is not much conversation about it at all that I can find, let alone deep interest.

So, I expect people will greet the news with interest but no more than was afforded to, say, the declaration that Obamacare is constitutional.

Religion will not only not consider it a threat, it will find a way to embrace it to the point that may people, including the leadership of religion itself, will come to believe that it was predicted all along and what’s the fuss? That’s the nature of religion.

J.S.: You may be right—that it won’t cause much of a fuss. But I think that’s only if we merely receive a signal. If we are ever able to fully communicate with ET, they might have their own views on “God” and their own religion—or no religion at all. Maybe they’ll try to convert us to their ways—whatever they may be—like the Christian missionaries worked so hard at converting “pagans,” in our past. As far as the public’s reaction, we’ll never really know until it happens, I suppose. It would be interesting to witness, though.

  1. J.S.: Are there agreed-on protocols to follow when ET is found?

SETI Net: I have given a lot of thought to the “who/when/where” of announcing an actual verified signal. I know that there is a standard protocol in place to be used when it happens, but I also know human nature enough to know that it will all be tossed overboard at the first sign of an actual signal. This is what I will do:

First – I will tell no one for a very long time. I will use that time to make as many attempts at falsification as I can think of all the while recording every bit of data that I receive and all the actions I take. My SETI File Manager software automatically takes care of recording those actions for the most part and the Spectrum Analyzer automatically records the data. I will keep on doing this until I run out of ideas for falsification then I will wait some more and keep on recording. Then I will wait some more (you get the idea).

Second – I will contact the few people who I know in the SETI community that trust me enough to take me seriously (only three or four people). I will do that by phone but will record both sides of the conversation surreptitiously. I will ask for help validating the signal with any systems they know of that could cover the same part of the spectrum that I use. I will wait for their answer, which will take a long time because they would have to check with the owners of those systems and make their own explanations to them. This will almost certainly end the process as far as they are concerned because the owners of those systems (UC Berkeley, Harvard etc.) would never change their operating schedules to validate a signal that I pointed out. I will place those recordings with a lawyer with instructions to put them in a blind (unknown to me) safe deposit box and keep it closed until an unconnected second source validates my discovery.

Third – I will capture all the schematics, descriptions, and software source code from my station and have them placed in that same safe deposit box. Then I will move a copy of the data collected to that box. This makes up a baseline for the parameters of my station.

Fourth – I would make an announcement on all the on-line boards and then follow the standard protocol. Then I will continue on my way listening and recording the signal for as long as it is available. I would be available to answer any questions that came my way as honestly as possible hiding nothing reveling everything. I won’t attempt to write a scholarly paper because it would never be published nor would I write anything for the general media unless by invitation and then for a fee.

I fully expect that to be the end of it. No one will follow up because they cannot or will not. I will have to rely on the fact that I published the information and that I have the original data all locked up safe and sound where even I don’t have access to it and can’t be accused of “doctoring” it. Some day the signal would be seen again by one of the large institutions and I can start the process of proving that I was first.

I will not make a dime from it but will die happy.

J.S.: You really have thought that out! Always good to have a plan. And, I know how you feel about dying happy. My dream has always been to write a book and see it in print. Now that I have achieved that goal, I can die happy. I sincerely hope your dream comes true. (And it would make me very happy too, so bonus!)

  1. J.S.: What is it, exactly, that you’re looking for? How will you know when you find it? You use the term “falsification” a lot, what does it mean?

SETI Net: I’m looking for a beacon intentionally sent to be discovered. I expect it will be a single always-on signal of high purity and nothing else. No voice, no “I Love Lucy” rerun being beamed back—nothing. I expect this because that is what I would send if I were the ET wanting to be seen among the stars.

A single signal of high purity is a sure sign of non-natural signals. Nothing that we know of in nature can send this type of signal. It would not have any other intelligence in it, no coded messages, no voice or alien TV, because those all take extra power to send, make the signal look less “alien,” and reduce the range of the signal.

  1. J.S.: What are the odds that they will be found? What are the odds that SETI Net will find them?

SETI Net: The odds are near 100% that ET will be found. Simply counting the number of stars in an average galaxy (300,000,000,000) and the number of galaxies (several trillion) and the number of planets around those stars (estimated to be about 4/star) then the odds there being a second ET (we are the first) and near perfect.

They will be found.

How long will it take is actually the question to be asked. Ekers and Cullers in their book, SETI 2020, say that it should be before 2025. I think that is optimistic. It could be the end of this century, or even later, but it will be found.

The odds that SETI Net will find the first ET are next to zero. I’m an old guy without a long time left to come up with something. I once calculated the time it would take SETI Net to scan the entire waterhole and came up with the astonishing number of 3,500 years and that’s for one scan.

Does that depress me? Well, maybe a little. On the other hand, the next scan I start might be the one that yields pay dirt and what better thing do I have to do with my time—play golf?

J.S.: Hey, don’t knock golf. I love the game. But my shoulders and back don’t approve, so I won’t be playing much either. Good thing I have a sedentary job.

  1. J.S.: What about this magic frequency called “the Waterhole?” That sounds more like poetry than science.

SETI Net: It’s both science and poetry. My wife has a website on her computer that has a camera trained on a waterhole in the middle of Africa, and it’s fascinating to see the different species come together, in peace, to get that which is necessary for life for them all—water. I’m not saying that someone doesn’t get eaten once in a while but, for the most part, the lions and giraffes share the same bank and drink from the same water with small birds.

There is such a waterhole in space. It’s in the a part of the spectrum that is the quietest—no man-made transmissions are allowed and the absorption of radio waves by our atmosphere and natural noise generated by stars is at a minimum. It’s the perfect place to send a beacon and a perfect place to hear one.

It’s called the Waterhole because it is banded on lower edge by a natural signal generated by hydrogen in space, and at the upper edge by a second line generated by hydroxyl. The two lines, if combined, would make up what we know as water.

Sagan’s book CETI says this about the Waterhole:

What more poetic place could there be for water-based life to seek its kind than the age-old meeting place for all species: the water hole?

It’s where SETI Net searches, where the WOW signal was detected, and the most looked-at place for ET.

Sagan always did have the ability to make me cry. I miss the man.

J.S.: Me, too. Of course, I didn’t know him personally, but I was still shocked and saddened by his passing. I know a lot of people miss him.

  1. J.S.: Now, for my final question, again: Will they come eat our brains?

SETI Net: Quite possibly—nummies.

J.S.: That’s what I thought! But, seriously, thank you, Jim, for a wonderful interview. I’m very glad you agreed to do this it.


J.S.: That concludes the interview. I hope you had as much fun as I did. I’m sure Jim wouldn’t mind answering any question, if you have any.


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