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Ask the Astronomer

QUESTION:

In the movie CONTACT, humans decoded a message from extraterrestrials. In real life how could scientists send a message and receive an answer from extraterrestrials?

Astronomer William Georgevich replies:

When the Hubble Space Telescope was pointed at a region of space that was considered very empty, the deep CCD exposure revealed layers of galaxies superimposed upon each other at the very edge of the visible universe. When the Mars probe began traveling around Mars, we watched the live Internet Sites with bated breath. Would there be more evidence of life on Mars after being teased by the confusing evidence of the Martian meteorite that fell to Earth? One planetary astronomer told me he would know there was life on Mars when something unseen picks up one of the surface probes & points it in another direction.

What do these 2 events have in common? Both demonstrate our continuing fascination with the Universe in which we live and our desire to know if there are other life forms out there. The movie CONTACT, based on the Carl Sagan book, provides a unique ET solution but left many viewers unsatisfied because it raised more questions than it answered.

Curved space, time dilation, and other incomprehensible events are commonly accepted by scientists as cosmologists try to recreate the Big Bang and its aftermath. And these phenomena are routinely part of television sci-fi programs as if you & I warp and jump to light speed routinely.

In truth, only by changing the rules of ordinary reality do we have any real chance of sending a message and getting an answer from extraterrestrials in our lifetime because star systems and their planets are so far away. We don't have that technology yet, but scientists have working theories upon which these popular science-fiction notions are based. Two-way communication with extraterrestrials may not be that far away. Remember, in 1960 many scientists seriously doubted a man could be put on the Moon!

Learn more about extraterrestrials and exoplanets.

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