ET Slow Scan

ET phone home. . . slowly.

In cyber-security, a stealthy attempt at reconnaissance often involves slowing down a scan until the time frame goes below the parameters in the intrusion detection signatures and the scan effectively disappears from the radar of the defenders.

SETI radio astronomers monitor space for tell-tale radio signals that might demonstrate the existence of intelligent civilizations.

In “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a monolith of extra-terrestrial origin was buried on the Moon and triggered a “phone home” beacon when it was uncovered and exposed to sunlight. The logical assumption was that the beacon was a kind of intelligent civilization detector, that could only be triggered by a group that had mastered simple space travel, and could detect a magnetic anomaly below the surface of the Moon.

Whether the scenario involves an ET detector beacon (as in 2001) or a broadcast from the home world, and whatever motives and ethics are involved (stealth, non-interference), radio transmissions might not be using the same time-frame that we expect.

Our normal radio and television transmissions operate at a variety of “speeds” but still within a fairly well defined range of time-frames. If an alien broadcast was not within the time-frame that we expect, our observers might miss it. A message sent with a very slow data broadcast rate would be difficult to correlate and would probably be drowned out in background noise. A message sent with a very fast broadcast rate would be more noticeable, but might not be recognized as data. And of course, there are many other varieties of broadcasting techniques that might obscure the message from our observation, such as our own method of spreading data out by hopping across different frequencies as in spread spectrum.

Motives for obscuring, encoding or even encrypting an incoming broadcast might include some kind of test to allow contact only after our civilization has reached a level of technology and understanding sufficient to anticipate and decode the message. Applying the same techniques to an outgoing message seems most likely to involve an attempt to maintain stealth.

At some point, our SETI efforts may need to consider using data mining and correlation techniques that look for “unusual” data patterns that we would not normally expect. This will probably require massive computational ability and sophisticated algorithms, but that lends credence to the idea of a test.

SEE ALSO:
Fermi Paradox

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