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From the Files of the RJ's Surrealist Research Bureau

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Pioneer 11 Launch (courtesy of NASA) Pioneer 11 Launch (courtesy of NASA)

Strange news from another star

“Two things alone mystify me, the fact that we are alone in the universe, and the fact that we may not be alone.” Arthur C. Clarke

I’m glad I never lost my youthful sense of wonder, of being surrounded by the marvelous. Led and guided by wise (to me) adults, loyal, adoring pets, great and true friends I was enamored by the beauty and wonder about me, whether silent, majestic woods or the bustle and futuristic citiscapes of the metropoli.

Even today, reading the daily paper or catching a brief newscast can set my mind to soaring into the realms of fairy. Recently it was an Internet discussion of a strange signal from deep outer space that caught my eye. The signal was received back on August 15, 1977 at Ohio State University’s “Big Ear” telescope (conspiracy watchers take note: the day Elvis died). The signal, on computer printout, read simply; 6EQUJ5. Without getting too technical, the “U” portion was the highest power signal the OSU telescope had ever found and it was a narrowband signal at 1420 megahertz. Now the Ohio researchers knew, from a 1959 paper in Nature, that two physicists from Cornell (Cocconi and Morrison) had predicted that any extra-stellar civilization wishing to broadcast their whereabouts would most likely use 1420 mhz, since hydrogen emits radiation at that frequency and was a number that would have meaning to anyone listening. (There were a number of other criteria specified by the Nature article, such as a narrow bandwidth, that the signal had to meet as well. The signal met all requirements!)

The signal lasted for barely three seconds and since then not only has Ohio State’s telescope been dismantled (demolished!) to make room for a parking lot, but SETI funds have been slashed to the bone; only a scant few small sites remain actively searching, funded by a few noble computer geeks and movie directors (kudos to Hewlett and Packard, Spielberg and Lucas). The 1977 signal came not from a known star but from deep space, leading to the most logical conclusion that it was a brief locator signal from an alien spacecraft aimed momentarily, perhaps even accidentally, in our direction. Astronomers since 1977 have since found over 250 planets orbiting other stars. As our telescopes become more sophisticated we’ll find more and more.

 I’m reminded of a few years back when our local VFW and others got their panties in a bunch when asked to shine their nightly lights down on the flag instead of up. They refused of course, and it’s ignorant, narrow-minded attitudes like that causing our giant telescopes like Palomar to lose a percent of their magnification per year due to light pollution. By mid-century only a few orbit-based telescopes will be left for observing the heavens.

But it’s not only the “Calling Elvis Home” signal that excites me, it’s still more news from deep space, which seems to cast doubt on gravity itself! As everyone knows, the Pioneer 10 and 11 spaceprobes were launched in the early 1970s and they are now far, far outside of our solar system. However, the probes are veering off course by more than 8,000 miles a year. There’s scores of reasons why it’s impossible for them to behaving this way and every month or two a few obscure papers are written up in scientific journals trying to explain the discrepancy, but always to no avail. The only plausible explanations that seem to fit (though far beyond me technically) is that our laws of physics no longer apply in deep space and will have to incorporate string theory’s alternate universes, dark matter and Grid knows what else.

It was discrepancies in the orbit of Mercury that led to Einstein’s breakthrough and even now I’d be willing to wager some young college students are wondering idly about those “impossible discrepancies” in the Pioneer Probes that will lead us to… who knows? Other dimensions? Faster-than-light travel? Warp drives and matter transmitters? Perhaps even the Realms of Fairy! I hope so, this place sucks!

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Jody Forest Jody Forest When he's not hidden behind the palatial gates of his Dover estate, Casa de Bozo, Jody is out using outdated and corny pickup lines on various gullible women.

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