Upgrading From Analog TVs Is Making Earth "Invisible" to E.T.'s

By Smriti Rao | January 26, 2010 5:28 pm

Earth-atmosphereIf you’ve been expecting to hear from a far-off alien civilization, don’t hold your breath, suggests Frank Drake, the founder of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)–the odds of ET phoning Earth may be diminishing. And your digital TV might well be to blame.

Speaking at a meeting of the Royal Society in London, Drake said that digital transmissions are effectively “gagging” the planet. In the fast-fading analog age, TV and radio signals transmitted around the world escaped into space. At present, the Earth is surrounded by a 50 light year-wide ”shell” of radiation from analogue TV, radio and radar transmissions, he said [The Telegraph]. Those signals reach distant stars, which means that if someone is home at any of those stars, they could heard us.

But Drake says that phasing out analog transmissions from TV, radio and radar is making our planet electronically invisible from outer space. While an old-style TV transmitter might generate one million watts, Drake says the power of a digital satellite signal is around 20 watts. He added that present-day satellites tend to point towards the earth rather than old-school transmitters which beam their signals all over the place [The Guardian], and notes that digital cable is even more impossible to detect from space. He also said that if Earth is making itself “invisible,” albeit unintentionally, then other civilizations are probably doing the same. And he further hypothesizes that in some cases it might even be deliberate; a proverbial drawing of the kitchen blinds, so to speak [Wired].

Drake says he’s still convinced that intelligent life does exist somewhere in the universe, but added that because the transmissions that signal the presence of life may be weaker, we might need to look for them harder. “We’re going to have to search many more stars and many more frequencies” [The Telegraph].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    Thank heavens. Network television is bad enough. If the aliens saw what we have on cable, they’d wipe us out for sure.

  • Brian Too

    Wouldn’t the shell be more like 100 light-years wide (diameter rather than radius)? And for that matter, didn’t radio broadcasts start nearly 100 years ago, making the shell’s diameter closer to 200 light-years in size?

  • http://cheapadultbooks.blogspot.com Hunter

    There is an amazing episode of “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” called “Space, Geeks and Johnny Unitas”, where an extraterrestrial disguised as a human befriends them, and can’t get over his obsession with a retro football game transmission that had been picked up by his home planet…

    Just thought I’d put that out there!

  • http://darkartsmanagement.blogspot.com Dr. Kervokian

    Excellent observation but seriously – its a good thing.

    First, the following statements will sound xenophobic. Secondly, its also haughty to conclude that evolved alien beings that are able to detect radio signals will be as selfish as us humans.

    However the remotest risk of spiritually stunted aliens like us is too dangerous to deny. Imagine a life force so advance technologically that they surmise that we’re no better than termites with their earth mounds. Sure its cool to jar us up for study but if a mall needs to be built, what’s a termite mound but nuisance. And to date, we’ve already discovered 424 extra solar planetary systems (http://exoplanet.eu); we also know that the numbers will continue to rack up and the universe or even just this galaxy will be more crowded than we think it is.

    What can we earthlings offer in terms of intergalactic ecosystem worthy of existence to a being that can travel faster than light. Our ecological impact will pretty much be locked to this rock.

    Some spiritual folks may even say that, hey; maybe our sentience and life after death spiritual experience points to a yet undiscovered, unproven web of connectivity which can span galaxies. But until that is scientifically established… we’re better off being hidden.

    What goes around comes around.

  • bigjohn756

    Now I know why do not get any local TV channels over the air. We now have plenty of bandwidth but no on air programming. Whoopie!

  • badnicolez

    What kind of signals are we searching for? Is an alien civilization really going to use analog transmissions long enough to enable us to detect them?

  • Billy Bob

    Brian – he said the shell is 50 light years WIDE, meaning the width of the shell (there is a tiny “yoke” called planet earth in the shell). Shell width tends to be measured from the inside edge of the shell to the outside edge of the shell. And even TV transmissions are now 80 years old, so regardless you’re getting technical rahter than getting the point!?! Don’t confuse real information with “gotcha” crap. He provided th former – you provided the latter.

  • Kengur

    Lrrr: We demand McNeal! Stop stalling!

  • http://nomadicjoe.blogspot.com/ Nomad

    One question: Why are scientists so certain that ETs ever developed radio in the first place? Isn’t it just as possible that they developed the digital technology and bypassed radio transmissions altogether? I mean, our radio transmission age lasted about 100 years which in the entire history of a civilization isn’t so long at all.
    Also radio transmission technology would presume that the ET planet has an ionosphere. Does this need to be the case? Admittedly, having an ionosphere might provide advantages to forming life but could life on a planet develop to our age and beyond if there was none or a very weak one? Perhaps ETs are using some kind of communication technology that they assume is fundamental but one in which we have yet to discover.

  • Dave

    I laugh at stuff like this becuase everybody seems to be drawn to the question “how much do we really know?” We don’t know if there’s other technology we haven’t explored, we don’t know for sure whether or not there is or isn’t any intelligent life out there, and for all we know other alien civilizations who are far more advanced could be watching us and we wouldn’t even know it. Compared to life on Earth we know a lot, but in the universe we’re just a spec. Maybe we’re just an experiment in a petri dish, though I doubt it. That’s why I try to keep an open mind when it comes to dealing with the universe.

    BTW Mankind FTW!

  • Dromo

    Surely these ALiens WILL be found .. but not by SETI .. by the MPAA . They have no licence and NO authority to view these programs, so will will hunted down like Succosids.
    Marines wanted now! for duty on Navi Home planet.


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