SETI

ASTRA and SETI

 

An introduction

by

Duncan Lunan

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At the time when ASTRA first became involved in this subject, the generally used acronym was CETI, Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence. This would require the use of very large radiotelescopes, or large optical ones, ant clearly was out of our league. When NASA became involve, later still, the acronym became SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and that could be said to cover our activities as well as core conventional enquiries.

What we can do is participate in the search, and influence the policy, in regard to direct Contact with Other Intelligence. There is a major split in the scientific world between spaceflight engineers, many of whom believe interstellar travel to be possible, and astronomers, most of who insist that it's impossible, impracticable or not worth doing. As a spaceflight society it's not surprising that ASTRA came down on the side of the engineers, though some of our members objected at the time.

In the mid-60's several books on interstellar travel were published, all dealing with the first mission, and we decided to run a book project, "Man and the Stars", on the first wave of interstellar colonization, out to 12 light-years. Planets which already supported intelligent life would of course be excluded; but to interest publishers in the book, we had to go on to consider how we should behave in a Contact situation. From there, logically, we turned to how we should behave if 'They Find Us'; and only after that to whether it had ever really happened. The book was illustrated by Ed Buckley and Gavin Roberts and published in 1974: it appeared in hardback and paperback in the UK, USA and France, paperback in Spain, serial form in Holland and Japan, and a pirate edition in Greece! Those discussions spun off several new investigations, some still continuing among those listed below.

Mobile Worlds and Self-replicating Probes.

After 'Man and the Stars" in 1974 important new concepts of interstellar travel were published by Gerard O'Neill, the British Interplanetary Society's Daedalus project and others. These ideas were discussed in a review of "Man and the Stars" in 1981 and in ASTRA's 'Man and the Planets" project, published in 1983. The results were presented at the IBM Heathrow Conference in 1987 and Published in Speculations in Science & Technology in 1988. Chris Boyce's book "Extraterrestrial Encounter" published in 1979, dealt with self-replicating 'von Neumann probes'; ASTRA discussions contributed to that book and Chris Boyce launched a discussion project for a new book in 1997-98. For further information checkout ET-Presence, a new discussion project which had been undertaken by Chris Boyce before his death in 1999.

ET Encounter Simulation.

In "Man and the Stars' Chris Boyce wrote a guest chapter introducing Part 2, and developed his ideas in "Extraterrestrial Encounter' (1979). ASTRA participation included 'helping Chris to develop his 'ET Encounter Simulation' role-playing scenario, which has been used at several SF conventions and more serious gatherings.

'The Space Probe Affair'.

The late John Macvey drew our attention to Prof. Ron Bracewell's suggestion that a probe from another civilisation had tried to contact Earth in the 1920's. I produced a 'translation' of the 1920's signals, suggesting that the probe had come from the star Epsilon Bootis, about 13,000 years ago. The paper was published by the British Interplanetary Society and caused a considerable stir in the early 1970's: a more popular version was published in Analog, a more detailed one in "Man and the Stars", and later papers appeared in the Journal of the Society of Electronic and Radio Technicians, and as a guest chapter in "Extraterrestrial Encounter". Out of ASTRA's share of the "Man and the Stars' proceeds a satellite tracking station was built to search for the probe, but a series of major setbacks, including vandalism and hurricane damage, prevented us from commissioning it. In the end most of the 'Epsilon Bootis' translation had to be discarded, but recently it's beginning to seem that there may be something to it after all. A further article 'Epsilon Bootis revisited' appeared in the March 1998 issue of Analog.

Stonehenge and the Pyramids.

After 'Man and the Stars" I was approached by Capt. Alan Evans, who drew my attention to some very remarkable alignments built into Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid and (it turned out) the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. We were joined in the enquiry by Danny Varney of Australia. The investigation had some remarkable spin-offs, leading to the Glasgow Parks Astronomy Project, in which I designed and built the first working astronomical megalith for 5000 years, and to an aerial archaeology flight which I organised and navigated in 1982. By then we had firmed up our own enquiry, but were halted by lack of funds. In 1996, however, we announced the first parts of our hypothesis in ASTRA's Heresies in Archaeoastronomy' seminar at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Two smaller follow-ups were held in Glasgow and the results were presented in 'Epsilon Bootis Revisited', above.

The Face on Mars.

In the late 1980's Chris O'Kane, then an ASTRA Council member, organised a series of Glasgow meetings on the possibilities of Contact, in relation to his own participation in Mars Network UK, part of the international enquiry into the 'Face on Mars' and surface features surrounding it. Since then Chris has set up a study group at North Kelvinside School, who found the first 4-sided pyramid on the "Martian surface, some distance from the Face. Chris and the North Kelvinside pupils were among the participants in 'Heresies in Archaeoastronomy', and Chris held a further series of discussions within ASTRA in anticipation of the Mars Global surveyor mission. Photographs from it appear to have dis-proved the artificiality of the 'Face', but have revealed another 4-sided pyramid in the same area, so the issue may not be closed yet.

The Green Children.

The "Man and the Stars' project included a preliminary investigation into the 12th century mystery of 'the green children of Woolpit'. In 1651 Robert Burton suggested they might have come from space, and in 1989 1 was prompted to take it further. I tackled it again in 1993 and this time I turned up so much information that it's become the subject of a book, working title 'Children from the Sky', to be illustrated by Sydney Jordan. A detailed series of review meetings on the project was held in Airdrie and Glasgow ASTRA meetings over the summer of 1995, and the results were revealed at the World Science Fiction Convention, the 1996 Edinburgh International Science Festival and the 1997 Fortean society 'Unconvention'. A summary article appeared in the September 1996 issue of the US magazine Analog but a great deal more has come to light since, especially as regards connections with Epsilon Bootis, Stonehenge and the Pyramids above.

The Millennium Book.

In 1997-98 ASTRA ran a series of discussions relating to a proposed book by Kilmarnock artist Andy Paterson, illustrating the long-term possibilities for the human race including Contact with Other Intelligence. Paintings from the book have already been exhibited in Kilmarnock and at the Coats Observatory in Paisley. Andy is also working on an exhibition and possible book project relating to the Green Children.

The charge is sometimes made that ASTRA is 'just a UFO society'. In fact, one past President tried to turn the society in that direction, but the proposal was heavily defeated at one of only five meetings on UFO's in the whole of ASTRA's history to date. While we remain willing to look into particularly interesting cases, our general policy is to look for and investigate cases which might involve recognisable technologies and purposes, rather than the mass of alleged UFO sightings. As Isaac Asimov said, "lights in the sky, however mysterious, are not enough".

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Date Last Modified: 31 07 1999