HE IS the Australian scientist who has been handed the task of finding signs of alien life on other planets.
However Professor Matthew Bailes warns if aliens contact us we should think twice before replying, saying any creature from outer space capable of sending out a signal would more than likely be more intelligent than us — and possibly dangerous.
The Swinburne University academic was this week told that he would be lead the Australian team as part of the world’s biggest search for extraterrestrial life.
The Breakthrough Prize Foundation project is being funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and astrophysicist Stephen Hawking to the tune of $135 million and will involve some of the greatest minds devising a supercomputer capable of detecting signs of life in deep space.
Professor Bailes will lead a team of CSIRO researchers to build this supercomputer at the Parkes Observatory in central-western NSW.
And while the Aussie scientist was shocked by the scale of the project (he was only told about it a few days before the rest of the world), he is also looking forward to it.
But when he was asked what he would do if he actually found a signal sent by aliens, his response was not what you would expect.
“I think we should think very carefully before we reply to a signal received from outer space,” he told German press agency, dpa.
“The history of weak civilisations contacting more advanced civilisations is not a happy one.”
Yikes. I think the good professor is thinking of those aliens in Independence Day and not the ET kind.
“The difficulty is to know what sort of signal we are looking for,” he then went on to say to dpa.
“There is no manual on how to find aliens. We’ll have to imagine the sort of transmissions an alien race might send, and a variety of strategies will have to be deployed ranging from looking for single bursts to signals that might be more encoded in other transmissions.
“The signal is likely to be quite feeble after coming vast distances. We’ll need to be looking for advanced civilisations that have significantly more transmission grunt than we are capable of on Earth.
“Hopefully they send a transmission pattern we can recognise such as prime numbers, or a mathematical construct at a frequency that might have some significance to us.”
In order to do this Professor Bailes and his team will have to devise a very sophisticated computer with a new signal processor that is capable of filtering through one quadrillion floating point operations per second, or a petaflop, Fairfax media reported.
“It will be the equivalent of tuning into 400 HDTV channels at once,” Professor Bailes told Fairfax. “We’ll look for signals of signs of life within those channels.”
The professor also said the process for looking for these signs of life would not be like the movies
where a scientist kept an ear out for a signal.
He explained it would be all up to the supercomputer.
“These computers will have to sort through a billion samples a second trying to find a pattern or what could be a signal,” he told dpa.
And if the supercomputer does detect something, it will be double-checked by many scientists before they release the news to the world.
“There is a protocol for what we do if we confirm we have found a signal, but I don’t know what it is. I have a year before we start so there is time,” he said.
“I suspect some people would go around with placards saying the world was about to end.
“We could be really lucky and find something coming from tens of light years away, but it is far more likely to come from thousands of light years away.
“Even if we discovered one tomorrow we’d all be long dead and buried before we could reply and the aliens would get an answer.”
It is estimated that it will take between five to ten years to build the supercomputer.
So we have a little time yet before we can phone ET.
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