Aliens and the Irish Times

Aliens in the Irish times

Would the last person to leave the planet please turn off the lights?

The most read story on the Irish Times website last Saturday (update: also all Sunday and Monday) was Dick Ahlstrom’s ‘Light from alien cities could signal intelligent life out there’. It beat out everything to do with the Euro debt crisis, everything to do with Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, and even an interview headlined: ‘Sex in an Irish context is really funny’. Mind you, I think I see what’s happening here; there’s a certain light – if you pardon the pun – in which the headline is kind of misleading. It almost suggests that such cities have already been observed and that we’re on the verge of a momentous discover… Cue clicks aplenty!

That said, people clearly are interested in the topic. Certainly it’s heartening to see that kind of curiosity from mainstream readers in this country, let alone the quote-unquote newspaper-of-record (who also ran the story on the front page of their print edition). As someone who’s currently trying to sell a novel which deals in part with Irish astronomers receiving mysterious communications from a potentially otherworldly origin, the fact that this article was not just the most read but also the most shared for three days straight suggests that there is a hunger here for material in this vein. That’s a nice feeling.

As for the alien cities, hopefully at least some of those encountering the Irish Times article will have sought out the Astrobiology paper which inspired it – Abraham Loeb and Edwin Turner’s ‘Detection Technique for Artificially-Illuminated Objects in the Outer Solar System and Beyond’? It’s not that long, five pages and change, and it’s well worth a look if you fancy touching base with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Loeb and Turner’s argument – optical observations as an alternative to radio based SETI – makes a lot of sense considering Terrestrial developments over the last few decades:

‘As technology evolves on Earth, expectations for plausible extraterrestrial signals change. For example, the radio power emission of the Earth has been declining dramatically in recent decades due to the use of cables, optical fibers and other advances in communication technology, indicating that eavesdropping on distant advanced civilizations might be more difficult than previously thought’.

We may have to wait for the next generation of optical telescopes in order to put Lobe and Turner’s concept into practice but, until then, we always have our fiction, right?

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