x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A space oddity

Building the world's most powerful radio telescope will allow scientists to eaves drop on extra-terrestrial television signals. But what if aliens are already watching our TV shows?

Science has made another giant leap with the agreement to build the world's largest and most powerful radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The worthy aims of this $2 billion (Dh7.35bn) project include testing Einstein's theory of gravity and discovering the secrets of the Big Bang.

Fifty times more powerful than current telescopes, the SKA will also be looking for life on other planets. In fact, it's expected to be sensitive enough to pick up potential radio and television signals from inhabited extrasolar planets, if they exist. Remarkably, we could one day be watching broadcasts from outer space.

But isn't it at least conceivable that similar technology could work the other way? If so, that means alien life-forms might actually be spying on us, passing judgement on the content and quality of our TV programmes.

It is a frightening thought that the population of the planet Gliese 581 d in the Libra constellation, about 20 light years away, could right now be scratching their heads and wondering if the people of Earth all resemble the characters in Seinfeld, Roseanne, Melrose Place and Men Behaving Badly who are just now beaming into their equivalent of a living room. If so, that may explain why they haven't bothered to make contact.