To futility and beyond

To futility and beyond

In space laser news, Austrian scientists believe that extraterrestrials are throwing photons at us, and are trying to catch them in the act.

Astronomers have long believed that alien civilizations love to shoot laser beams at Earth. Some have scientific purposes, like figuring out when humans are going to die. Some are just to get the attention of airline pilots. Most are believed to be harmless attempts to entertain Earth cats.

As we learned in high-school physics (Disclaimer: Learning was something that children used to do in school instead of self-esteem counseling and random locker searches — kids, ask your parents), a photon is a particle of light that acts as both a particle and a wave. Lasers can be made up of hundreds of photons. Astrophysicists hope to catch one of these photons doing the wave so that they can prove life exists elsewhere, thereby justifying all the telescopes.

The methodology used in the project involved using a single-photon detector to detect a single photon, doing some math, and then making guesses about alien civilizations without going there.

According to laser researcher Walter Leeb of the Vienna University of Technology, “We assumed that aliens would use the simplest possible way of attracting our attention.” By sending a single photon, an alien civilization is able to communicate one simple, unambiguous message across the universe, “Here, have a photon.”

Using the European Starbucks Organization (ESO) Venti Latte Telescope (VLT) (pictured above), the VUT researchers claim to have found just such a photon. Unfortunately, one of the grad students turned on the light in the observatory, and the photon got mixed up with about a billion trillion zillion locally-sourced photons. Leeb now has dozens of freshmen astrophysics majors sifting through boxes of photons looking for the right one. He predicts they will find it any day now, even if they have to work through Christmas break.

Space scientists from UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute in Germany applauded the program for making their SETI projects look reasonable by comparison.

The project was praised for having “the right amount of boldness to be both fascinating and realistic” by space instrumentation engineer Felix Hormuth, inventor of the boldometer and other space instrumentation. Hormuth measured 278 quatloos of boldness, roughly the equivalent boldness of quitting your plumbing job to teach interpretive dance to Aztecs. (For comparison, going where no man has gone before generates 100 quatloos of boldness.)

One scientist, who requested anonymity because he was an astrologer, said that the biggest hurdle to expanded SETI funding was the colossal failure.  He hoped that by implementing a program which starts out with zero chance of success at the outset, the Vienna Tech team* would be able to better manage expectations, and might actually increase interest in the program.

The scientists tried to detail their findings in the June issue of the journal Astrobiology, but were rejected because they had not done any actual finding.

* The scientists, not the Fighting Beethovens (8-2).

(Click on the picture to read the original article.)

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