Radio Signals from Mars, 1924

JF Ptak Science Books    Quick Post

Mars 1924[New York Times, September 18, 1921, here]

And so there came a time in 1923 and 1924 when it was determined that when the Earth next came into closest proximity with Mars (closest in opposition for a century) that efforts would be made to determine whether or not there was anyone around on that planet.  The idea of the radio being a powerful-enough instrument to be used in such a way was initiated in 1896 by Tesla, and soon followed at the turn of the century with support for the idea by Marconi  and Kelvin. (This interest was perhaps ignited after both Tesla and Marconi detected unexpected and steady signals that they thought were extraterrestrial but which were in fact ionospheric radiation–and of course there was Percival Lowell and his self-derived belief in Martian intelligence as described by the thought that there were canals on the surface of Mars.  

This was a massive-idea  effort:  a U.S. government initiative demanded five minutes of radio silence per hour over a 36-hour period in the vast hope that transmitters closed down that if there were any radio signals being directed towards the Earth from Mars that they could be more easily detectable.  

This was the magnificent “National Radio Silence Day”.  And it was extraordinary that i twas supposed to affect every radio in the country.

William F. Friedman, the Chief of the Code Section in the office of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, was on the job and ready to decipher any messages that might need deciphering, which was some very hopeful thinking–not only was it hypothesized that there might be life but that it was also sufficiently advanced from some semi-primordial goo  as to have a technology capable of interplanetary communication, and that a code expert might be able to read anything that came in.  
Additionally that  New York Times article from 1921 described the proposals for the construction of a 60′ (720″) reflecting telescope–an absolutely enormous thing for the time, and for now, considering that the largest reflecting telescope yet built is 420″ (Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC)), and that is a segmented scope, whereas this 720″ mirror-monster would have been one big piece of glass.  
But the country as a whole deserves a bit of credit for being so interested in the possibly of communicating with extraterrestrials that it was willing to let a main source of information and entertainment be interrupted for science, and that so many people had a hand in this. It was possibly one of the largest public experiments in the history of experimentation in the United States, and was also one of the earliest SETI attempts to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life.  

By: Ptak Science Books
Via: Feedbin Starred Entries

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