The desire to contact intelligent life on other planets is much older than the UFO craze and the SETI movement. Several 19th century scientists contemplated how we might communicate with possible Martians and Venusians. These early proposals - which predate by 150 years the first extraterrestrial message that was sent in 1974 - were based on visual signals, as the invention of radio was still decades away.In fact, as history shows, ideas for interplanetary communication have largely been driven by whatever the current technology allowed - be it lamps, radios or lasers. "You go with what you know," said Steven Dick, NASA ChiefHistorian.Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks argued over the existence of life on other planets, but the idea really took off after the Copernican revolution. "Once it was realized that all the planets go around the sun, it was not hard to imagine that the other planets could be like Earth," Dick said. Galileo, Kepler and others considered the inhabitability of the planets, while being careful not to upset Church authority.
blossomed in the 17th century into the 'plurality of worlds' debate,
but it remained controversial," said Dick, who has written several
books on the topic.
One of the most influential
proponents for extraterrestrial life was Bernard le Bovier de
Fontenelle, who wrote Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds in1686.
Despite the interest, there
was no recorded discussion of how we might locate or contact these
potential aliens until more than a century later.
Crop triangles and burning canals
Florence Raulin-Cerceau of
the Alexandre Koyre Center in Paris has documented the early attempts
at communication with extraterrestrial intelligence (CETI), or what is
now often called active SETI.
"As early as the 19th
century, inventors imagined "sky telegraph" equipment to communicate
with the supposed inhabitants of the solar system's planets,"
Raulin-Cerceau recently wrote with her colleague in the French magazine
Pour la Science.
The first of these
inventors was Carl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician.
1820s, he spoke of reflecting sunlight towards the planets withhis
land surveying invent......
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