Aliens on Line 1
One day it happened. A signal was sent through space and picked up by a telescope tucked in the West Virginia mountains. The author’s colleagues analyzed the data. Was it a signal from intelligent life on another planet? (Antenna: Zack Frank; Background: NASA)
By Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer
We thought we had found E.T.
It was early on a summer evening in 1997. I had just finished dinner, and although I don’t recall the fare, I do recall the post-prandial excitement. Tom Pierson, the SETI Institute’s chief executive, called me at home and suggested that I hightail it down to the office.
“We’ve got a signal,” he said in his trademark deadpan, “and it’s looking good.”
After a short drive to our headquarters in Mountain View, California, I walked into the labyrinth where the institute’s scientists and engineers work. I found them decamped to an adjacent hallway, where a long table with a row of monitors was pushed against a wall. A half-dozen sleepy people were seated facing the table, their eyes fixed on the monitors, which were displaying a teeming grid of data. The numbers told a simple story: A narrow-band signal—millions of times more spectrally compact than a TV broadcast—was coming from the skies.
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