SETI - An alternate strategy

To date most SETI research has focused on the assumption that an advanced extra- terrestrial society will want to "communicate" with similar beings throughout the universe. But it is my belief that given the vast distances and time that communication via a "communications channel" even if it is one way, such as optical or radio frequency transmissions will be impractical.

Current SETI searches assume that an advanced civilization will use extremely powerful omni-directional transmitters or highly directional and focused signals targeted at our solar system. The challenge with either approach is the fact that successful one-way communication between intelligent species is the dependency on the “L” term in the Drake equation. L represents the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space. If L is relatively short then possibility of two separate intelligent civilizations being coincident in time to send and receive a signal is very small. So even though there may have been many intelligent civilizations we will probably never be aware of their existence.

Given these constraints I suggest instead that we look for extra-terrestrial intelligence in a similar way we searched for signs of intelligence on earth prior to the modern age. We cannot hope to communicate to prehistoric man, but we know that intelligent beings existed on earth thousands of years ago through archaeological evidence such as cave paintings, pyramids, monuments, etc.

More recently societies have been burying time capsules for future generations to discover and hopefully marvel at our accomplishments and perspectives of the future. Indeed several spacecraft have included time capsules to be hopefully discovered by humans or extra-terrestrial intelligent beings in the far future. Part of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, still on the moon, includes a plaque showing the arrangement of the Earth's continents in 1969. The LAGEOS satellite (which will re-enter the atmosphere in 8.4 million years) contains a plaque showing the arrangement of the Earth's continents in the past, present, and future. Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 both contain plaques that give pictorial information about their time and place of origin. The two Voyager spacecraft each contain a golden record that contains pictures and sounds of Earth, along with symbolic directions for playing the record and data detailing the location of Earth.

The understandable challenge of physical time capsules is the probability of locating and/or discovering these time capsules by future generations or aliens. Given the vast distances of space it is highly improbable that these time capsules will ever be discovered by any kind of intelligent being.

So rather than deploying physical time capsules can we think of a way of deploying electromagnetic time capsules made from self amplifying or self re-generating optical and RF signals that propagate forever and are easily discoverable and locatable? SETI researchers, in the past, have often speculated on self replicating robots that could travel to distant planets and recreate themselves by using local materials, but the complexity of such a device boggles the mind. Self amplifying and regenerating electromagnetic signals on the other hand would conceivably be much easier to deploy and possibly be achievable with current technology.

Self amplification and regenerating signals could use natural physical process such as gravitational lensing, stellar corona pump amplification, orbital angular momentum and other techniques to propagate electromagnetic signals indefinitely. But rather than being a straight line propagation in the direction of the original signal, self amplification and regenerated signals may propagate in all sorts of random directions depending on the physical properties of the amplification and regeneration process itself. As such the signals may be bouncing around the galaxy from one star to another in no particular predetermined direction.

Given that they depend on natural physical processes for amplification and regeneration the originating transmission does not to be that powerful or directional. It is conceivable that low power transmissions are that all is required to launch a self amplifying and regenerating electro-magnetic signal. The signals may also be in a part of the spectrum that is not usually commonly assumed for inter-stellar transmission but rather exist in parts of the spectrum associated with the physical amplification and regeneration process.

There are a host of problems with current inter-stellar electromagnetic signaling such as attenuation, dispersion, group delay, etc etc. Given these limitations how could we hope to deploy a self replicating optical signal that will maintain its integrity over the vast distances and time of space?

One intriguing possible solution is using gravitational lenses to refocus and amplify a inter-stellar electromagnetic signal. In an interesting post ( by Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams he calculates that a ‘Sun-Alpha Centauri direct radio bridge exploiting both the two gravitational lenses, this minimum transmitted power is incredibly… small! Actually it just equals less than 10-4 watts, i.e. one tenth of a milliwatt is enough to have perfect communication between the Sun and Alpha Cen through two 12-meter FOCAL spacecraft antennas.`

One should also note that a gravitational lens acts like a lens with a gradient refractive index which also collimate and reduce electromagnetic dispersion.

Other possible mechanisms for self replicating signals include RF Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM), quantum entanglement and using stellar corona as pump amplifiers. As an example see the recent post about solar corona masering. I am sure there are other possible candidates. I challenge the reader of this missive to think of other ways of creating self replicating electromagnetic time capsules.

If we can come up with a plausible mechanism for deploying self replicating optical/rf time capsules the next obvious step would be to see if we can detect any such phenomena in our local inter stellar region.

Instead of searching for communications signal from an extra terrestrial intelligent civilization we should perhaps instead look for "archaeological" evidence of their existence with the most likely candidate being a easily discoverable self replicating electromagnetic time capsule.

If you have any suggestions or comments, or think I am completely nuts please feel free to contact me at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quantum Entanglement Could Stretch Across Time

In the weird world of quantum physics, two linked particles can share a single fate, even when they’re miles apart.

Now, two physicists have mathematically described how this spooky effect, called entanglement, could also bind particles across time.

If their proposal can be tested, it could help process information in quantum computers and test physicists’ basic understanding of the universe.

“You can send your quantum state into the future without traversing the middle time,” said quantum physicist S. Jay Olson of Australia’s University of Queensland, lead author of the new study.

In ordinary entanglement, two particles (usually electrons or photons) are so intimately bound that they share one quantum state — spin, momentum and a host of other variables — between them. One particle always “knows” what the other is doing. Make a measurement on one member of an entangled pair, and the other changes immediately.

Physicists have figured out how to use entanglement to encrypt messages in uncrackable codes and build ultrafast computers. Entanglement can also help transmit encyclopedias’ worth of information from one place to another using only a few atoms, a protocol called quantum teleportation.

In a new paper posted on the physics preprint website, Olson and Queensland colleague Timothy Ralph perform the math to show how these same tricks can send quantum messages not only from place to place, but from the past to the future.

The equations involved defy simple mathematical explanation, but are intuitive: If it’s impossible to describe one particle without including the other, this logically extends to time as well as space.

“If you use our timelike entanglement, you find that [a quantum message] moves in time, while skipping over the intermediate points,” Olson said. “There really is no difference mathematically. Whatever you can do with ordinary entanglement, you should be able to do with timelike entanglement.”

Olson explained them with a Star Trek analogy. In one episode, “beam me up” teleportation expert Scotty is stranded on a distant planet with limited air supply. To survive, Scotty freezes himself in the transporter, awaiting rescue. When the Enterprise arrives decades later, Scotty steps out of the machine without having aged a day.

“It’s not time travel as you would ordinarily think of it, where it’s like, poof! You’re in the future,” Olson said. “But you get to skip the intervening time.”

According to quantum physicist Ivette Fuentes of the University of Nottingham, who saw Olson and Ralph present the work at a conference, it’s “one of the most interesting results” published in the last year.

“It stimulated our imaginations,” said Fuentes. “We know entanglement is a resource and we can do very interesting things with it, like quantum teleportation and quantum cryptography. We might be able to exploit this new entanglement to do interesting things.”

One such interesting thing could involve storing information in black holes, said physicist Jorma Louko, also of the University of Nottingham.

“They show that you can use the vacuum, that no-particle state, to store a lot of information in just a couple of atoms, and recover that info from other atoms later on,” Louko said. “The details of that have not been worked out, but I can foresee that the ideas that these authors use could be adapted to the black hole context.”

Entanglement in time could also be used to investigate as-yet-untested fundamentals of particle physics. In the 1970s, physicist Bill Unruh predicted that, if a spaceship accelerates through the empty space of a vacuum, particles should appear to pop out of the void. Particles carry energy, so they would be, in effect, a warm bath. Wave a thermometer outside, and it would record a positive temperature.

Called the Unruh effect, this is a solid prediction of quantum field theory. It’s never been observed, however, as a spaceship would have to accelerate at as-yet-unrealistic speeds to generate an effect large enough to be testable. But because timelike entanglement also involves particles emerging from vacuums, it could be used to conduct more convenient searches, relying on time rather than space.

Finding the Unruh effect would provide support for quantum field theory. But it might be even more exciting not to see the effect, Olson said.

“It would be more of a shocking result,” Olson said. “If you didn’t see it, something would be very wrong with our understanding.”

Image: flickr/Darren Tunnicliff

1 comment:

Peter Cummins said...

Thanks for sharing this information. I found it very informative as I have been researching a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about..
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