Evidence suggests we may not be so unique as we see ourselves
First there was "Wow!" And now, after so many years going by without a repeat that we almost forgot about it, we finally get "Wow!" 2.0.But this time from a different place altogether.
In August 1977, Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope picked up a signal from a star in the Sagittarius constellation (the densest star-filled patch in the Northern Hemisphere on a summer's night) that was so remarkable, the astronomer reviewing the emissions' printout wrote "Wow!" in the margin.
Later, the director of the university's observatory, John Kraus, wrote to the astronomer Carl Sagan, "The 'Wow!' signal is highly suggestive of extraterrestrial intelligent origin but little more can be said until it returns for further study".
It hasn't returned yet.
But, several weeks ago, The Guardian newspaper reported that radio telescopes in Australia and the United States had picked up narrowband emissions, as were the "Wow!" signal's, in April and May. They came from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun.
That they were narrowband was significant because radio waves from deep space tend to be all over the spectrum.
The Guardian quoted an anonymous source as saying "It is the first serious candidate (for an extraterrestrial message) since the 'Wow!' signal".
Many might dismiss the notion of an extraterrestrial message, but is it really so absurd?
Consider how many stars are in our galaxy alone, which by current estimates is merely one of 2 trillion.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration puts the number at 100 billion to 400 billion stars. According to Korey Haynes, in the February 2020 edition of Astronomy magazine, astronomers believe that, on average, stars have one planet orbiting them. That would be put the number in our galaxy at about 400 billion.
When Haynes' article was published, there were 4,108"confirmed exoplanets", planets outside our solar system. Some are in the "habitable zone", defined under the Goldilocks Principle－named after the fairy tale character whose first bowl of porridge was too hot, second too cold, and third just right－as neither too far nor too close to its corresponding star to support life, meaning that they could have an atmosphere and water, both of which are deemed necessary for life.
Wouldn't it be odd if Earth were the only place intelligent life existed. Or, as Albert Einstein once put it: "Given the millions of billions of Earthlike planets, life elsewhere in the Universe without a doubt, does exist. In the vastness of the Universe we are not alone."
In recent years, there have been incidents that some believe were extraterrestrial encounters.
In April, the Pentagon in the US released infrared videos taken by Navy fighter pilots of unidentified flying objects they were chasing in 2004. The pilots described the craft as "Tic Tac-shaped"－referring to a small ovoid-shaped hard candy－and about 12 meters long. They had no visible engines, but performed astonishing maneuvers and then, in sudden bursts of hypersonic speed, about five times the speed of sound, left the fighter pilots behind.
"We have helicopters that can hover, we have aircraft that can fly at 30,000 feet and right at the surface, (but) combine all that in one vehicle of some type with no jet engine, no exhaust plume," US Navy Lieutenant Ryan Graves, one of the fighter pilots, told The New York Times.
And what to think of 'Oumuamua, the enormous cigar-shaped object that entered our solar system in 2017. Traveling at about 315,000 km/h, it did a flyby and then left.
'Oumuamua was "the first object ever seen in our solar system that is known to have originated elsewhere," Harvard University astronomy professor Avi Loeb recently told CBS News. Loeb, who wrote a book about 'Oumuamua, said it could possibly have been a "light sail", an object propelled through space by the radiation of photons.
"It didn't look like a comet, yet it behaved like something that has an extra push."
I'm not sure what to think of any of this, but I have no doubt the answer will come by itself one day.