Space boffins have come up with a plan which strikes a deeply resonant chord with us here on the Register lunar desk. The scientists advocate the settting up of a distributed volunteer effort to trawl for signs of alien visits through the vast databases of lunar imagery being accumulated by NASA's space probe now circling the moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
The LRO is an old friend here at the Reg: it has made many excellent discoveries on the lunar surface in recent times, including the finding of such things as a multimillionaire game developer's lost electric buggy, a two-lane bridge, and hidden sub
terraneanselenean tunnel complexes (see "Related Stories" below for details).
Thus it is clear that the LRO, sweeping along in a very low orbit (this is possible due to the lack of any atmosphere) and so getting excellent hi-res pics, could surely detect signs of any activity by aliens on the lunar surface. The Moon is a particularly good place to look, as the chances are that any visit by star-travelling aliens or their machinery - assuming the laws of physics as they are currently understood to be inviolate on such matters as faster-than-light travel - would most likely have taken place a very long time ago.
If the aliens had set down on Earth millions of years back the chances of our finding any trace of the visit would be slim, as the Earth's surface is constantly churning itself up over that sort of timescale with plate tectonics, volcanoes and so on - and this is to ignore the constant rains of powerful solvent, shifting seas, pesky life getting everywhere etc.
But on the largely inert, airless Moon any ancient technology or construction would tend to be preserved largely intact through the aeons unless it happened to get hit by a rare large meteor. The Moon is also the only other body apart from Earth which will be mapped in high detail any time soon, courtesy of the LRO.
It might not be worth sending up the LRO just to look for aliens - and indeed it was actually intended to reconnoitre ahead of the now-cancelled new wave of manned landings planned under the Bush administration, seeking sites for safe landings and viable Moonbases. But since it is there anyway, according to profs Paul Davies and Robert Wagner (of Arizona State uni), it makes sense to scan its data not just for planetary-science information but also for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence.
The two scientists write:
Although there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon in the form of an artifact or surface modification of lunar features, this location has the virtue of being close, and of preserving traces for an immense duration.
Systematic scrutiny of the LRO photographic images is being routinely conducted anyway for planetary science purposes, and this program could readily be expanded and outsourced at little extra cost to accommodate SETI [Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence] goals, after the fashion of the SETI@home and Galaxy Zoo projects.
That's a fairly clean sweep for us, on the Reg moon desk. Aliens, space probe photos, a distributed @home volunteer-boffinry project and - best of all - the chance to write a headline ending in FOUND ON MOON. Christmas came early for us this year, courtesy of the journal Acta Astronautica, publishing Davies and Wagner's paper. ®