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Galactic Coordinate System


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If you have access to the Science channel, let me recommend a thought stimulating show called “How the Universe Works”.

I just watched S6 E33 on neutron stars. A pulsar is a type of neutron star that is emitting a directed beam of radio energy that is received on earth as a very regular pulsing or “blinking” signal. Every pulsar has its own unique frequency of blinking. 


Scientists believe that these pulsars can be used to navigate through space, acting much like the GPS satellite system we use here in our local space. Since astrophysicists have been able to identify in space where the pulsars are located, one can figure out where in space one is by a sort of space “triangulation” with respect to several pulsars.


This idea has been around for a several decades. An example of its use was included  on the Pioneer space probes launched in 1972 &1973. To identify where Pioneer came from, an illustration of where our Sun is with respect to the intersection of 12 pulsar beams is etched on a plaque. See Wikipedia on the Pioneer Plaque.


I’d seen the Pioneer plaque plaque before, but didn’t understand the concept.  Now I find it a fascinating concept how complex it is and wondering whether there is an alien species smart enough to figure out the roadmap to find us here on earth if they encounter the Pioneer probe.

Edited by DougK
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If I recall, our sun is referred to as an middle aged "Population I" star, with surrounding stars being both older and younger than it. This would mean that there is the possibility that, given the propensity for life to develop in amenable situations, there may well be civilizations both younger and older than ours in our corner of the galaxy.  The odds seem to be about 50-50 that the Pioneer plaque would fall into the hands of anyone capable of deciphering it.


It I recall, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is about 4.3 light years away. A number I seem to remember is 70,000+ years for Pioneer, travelling at its present speed, to travel that far. After it/they left the solar system I don't recall in which direction they were headed, but it's unlikely it/they would have been pointed directly at that particular star. Within 30 light years of us are somewhere around 130 to 140 stars, if memory serves. Recent discoveries lead us to believe that the chances of at least one habitable planet being found in that population are not unreasonable. The likelihood of a little space probe coming within hailing distance of one is less than slim.


I'd like to sound a little more upbeat, but the chances of our hearing back from anyone who intercepted a spacecraft of ours is even less than vanishingly small. The good news is that, the more probes we send out, the better our chances. :)


Still, we're not likely to hear anything for 70,000 years at best, millions to billions of years at worst. By that time a respondent would likely find that we had moved, leaving no forwarding address. Actually, the pulsar maps on the Pioneer plaques may expire before anyone encounters them, as our galaxy, and our universe, are not static, and visitors would end up knocking on the wrong door.


I'm placing my bets on wormholes. If they prove to be a reality, our chances of getting a reply are much improved. Unfortunately, a great improvement on virtually zero isn't all that encouraging. But we can still dream...


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Whenever I hear discussions about chances that aliens answer our attempts of making contact, I think "How can we expect to receive an answer, if we - with all our 'wisdom' and technology - are still unable to understand the sounds of (for example) whales or dolphins?". We can and do study them, we can see them, feel them, make experiments with them and even autopsy them and still have almost no clue. And if there is an alien species out there that is wise enough to understand what we sent out, would they have any reason to answer? My guess is, that an alien species, that is much smarter than us, would concentrate on trying to understand their own planet and its inhabitants and would only make contact with us, if we are close enough for a personal contact and if we have something that is worth trading with us or (worst case) stealing from us.


I'm sure that people would spend incredible amounts of money and human ressources trying to understand the answer, IF we ever receive one. But we spend a rather small amount of money and human ressources trying to understand the other inhabitants of this planet. Instead we teach dolphins to jump through a ring or sing a song and we kill whales and lots of other (endangered) species for various reasons. The solution for a better world is not somewhere out there, it is to better take care of our own planet.

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