It is a week now since news of Tropical Cyclone FREDDY first started to be seen and heard. Travelling due west in the Indian Ocean, it was forecast to hit Madagascar more or less mid-ships on Tuesday late.

Original wind speeds were measured at 250km/h, but, by the time, it reached The Malagasy coast, the speeds had dropped a bit to 165km/h. By last Monday over three million people on Madagascar were being threatened by its forecast path.

Forecasters started to predict that FREDDY would travel due west across Madagascar, weakening while over land, and then strengthen again in the Mozambique Channel, before hitting the coast of Mozambique on Friday with wind speeds in the region of 125 km/h. By Wednesday evening, Madagascar was reporting 4 fatalities, and 16000 affected people across 4 regions. Thousands of houses have been flooded, damaged or destroyed.

FREDDY was confirmed to be strengthening, and to make landfall close to the Inhassoro Town (in northern Inhambane Province, southern Mozambique) on 24 February very early in the morning (UTC), as a Tropical Storm. Between Friday and Saturday, heavy rainfall, strong wind and storm surge were forecast over central and southern Madagascar and over central and southern Mozambique.

The Western Cape Government said teams from its disaster management centre would be on standby as tropical cyclone FREDDY is expected to affect parts of South Africa. The storm is expected to bring heavy rainfall which could lead to flooding in the north-eastern parts of South Africa this weekend.

Areas expected to be affected by the periphery of the storm are parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

“Mozambique, Zimbabwe and parts of South Africa are bracing for Tropical Cyclone FREDDY. It is expected to make landfall in the vicinity of Beira on the Mozambique coastline this weekend,” said Anton Bredell, the Western Cape MEC for local government, environmental affairs and development planning.

“Current predictions are for extreme downpours and damaging winds in Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe.

“In South Africa, the Lowveld and escarpment areas of Limpopo and Mpumalanga could potentially be at risk, especially considering the recent heavy rains and flooding these regions have already been subjected to.

“As a precautionary response measure, The Western Cape Disaster Management Centre has been requested by the National Disaster Management Centre to lead a combined South African team to support rescue efforts in severely affected areas.”

The head of the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre, Colin Deiner will lead the combined effort to ensure various rescue teams are co-ordinated and on standby for deployment.

“A team of 40 rescue workers is currently ready to deploy at short notice. The team is represented by the Western Cape and Gauteng Disaster Management Centres, Gift of the Givers Rescue Team, Rescue South Africa, Sarza Rough Terrain Specialists and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI),” Deiner said.

“The team will be supported by approximately 20 off-road rescue vehicles and several rescue boats.

“They will also be equipped with water and rope rescue equipment, heavy lifting and cutting equipment, mobile command posts and technical search equipment.

“The team will be self-sufficient and will be equipped to deal with water rescue operations as well as search and rescue of missing persons.” End quote.

Then on Monday we got the news of two further major earthquakes on the Turkiye-Syrian border. Within seconds of each other, they both measured about 6.4 on the Richter scale. These shocks seem to be right on the coast of the two countries, and news of further casualties is that a further 6 people have died, and another 294 people are injured. However, they add to the over 3000 aftershocks experienced in the area, and must surely make the population afraid to be inside a building of any kind.

Reports from the United Nations say that 41000 deaths have been recorded and 1.5 million people are now homeless in the south of Turkiye, where at least 500000 new homes will need to be built for them.

And in Syria, where at least 6000 people have lost their lives, and up to 9 million citizens have been affected, residents who survived the earthquake are left in extremely cold temperatures without drinking water, electricity, or fuel for heating, and are exposed to the danger of crumbling buildingsas they try to seek shelter.  

Greg G0DUB reports that Aziz TA1E, who is the Turkish IARU Emcomms coordinator, was interviewed by the BBC World Service for their programme ‘Digital Planet’ which was broadcast on 21st February. The item is available for you to listen to at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct31zr. The item runs from about 2 minutes into the recording and lasts about 6 minutes.

Aziz has given a great summary of how we can help in emergencies and it certainly helped that the interviewer is also a Radio Amateur.

TRAC, the Turkish Amateur Radio Association says that a total of 130 members of their 32 branches and representative offices were active in the disaster area to provide communication support to the rescue teams and public institutions in the provinces and districts that were exposed to damage. Their locally operating repeaters were used, and the coverage areas were expanded by installing mobile repeaters in 3 different settlements where needed. 

The South African rescue team, led by the Gift of the Givers, and involving 4×4 rescue individuals, also had tracker dogs trained to search for both living and dead victims. No other search dogs are capable of tracking both types of casualties. Our team returned to South Africa after 10 days.

Livescience.com reports on the unexpected X-class solar flare that occurred on 17th February, produced by sunspot AR3229, which was newly formed. Solar Astronomers had predicted some action from AR3226, and were caught off guard by this one, which had an X-class magnitude of 2.2.

The flare triggered a rare type of shockwave known as a solar tsunami that rippled across the sun’s visible surface, or photosphere, according to Spaceweather.com. A solar tsunami, also known by scientists as a fast-mode magnetohydrodynamical wave, is basically “a giant wave of hot plasma” that can travel up to 901,000 km/h across the photosphere and reach heights of around 100,000 km above the surface, according to NASA.

The flare also emitted a Type II solar radio burst — a stream of mainly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation — that hit Earth shortly after the flare erupted. The radiation ionized the upper atmosphere, causing minor radio blackouts across parts of the Americas for around an hour, according to Spaceweather.com. 

The slight increase in X-class flares is likely the result of the sun entering a more lively phase of its 11-year solar cycle, which should peak in 2025. Let’s hope it continues to increase in intensity over these next 3 years.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.



The tragedy of the Earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria continues to deepen. On Saturday morning early, the 12th day after the first quake, the death toll in total for both countries stood at 60,000, with many more injured, and these numbers  continuing to increase.

The Global Disaster Alert Coordination Centre (GDACS) said that, as of Thursday, 3170 aftershocks had been recorded in the area, many of them of moderate intensity, and there is no reason why more magnitude 7’s might not occur. Over 200,000 people have had to be evacuated away from the disaster areas to places of relative safety. Damaged or partly destroyed hospitals are bulging at the seams with the injured.

At least 32 countries of the EU and IARU Region 1 have sent teams of rescuers, and what’s left of homes and buildings are being removed and sifted through in search of survivors or casualties.

In bittersweet news, a pregnant woman in Syria went into labour during the earthquake and gave birth while trapped under the rubble. Workers were able to rescue the woman’s baby, but the mother died before they could save her. According to AFP, the little girl is the lone survivor in their immediate family. Her parents and four siblings all died in the earthquake. Hospital management, where she is being cared for, have received many offers to adopt her, but meanwhile, the wife of the hospital manager, who has a four-month old baby, is breastfeeding the baby, and she is doing well. A small ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak landscape.

Miraculously, however, a seven-month-old baby was rescued alive from the rubble last Tuesday, 8 days after the disaster. My medical understanding says to me that a 7 month baby could not possibly have survived that long without feeds and water, but clearly this baby’s time had also not yet come! And the next day, an 80 year-old Granny was also extricated alive from the rubble, so marvels do exist. I believe a young teenage girl was also retrieved on Thursday, but time must surely be running out for those still trapped in the rubble.

Meanwhile, floods, landslides and drownings are occurring in other parts of the world. New Zealand is shaking off the damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, with four deaths reported. 1400 people have been uncontactable, 9000 displaced and large areas experiencing power outages. The rain continued all of last week.

The Eastern African Coastal areas are experiencing extreme rain, floods and damage to households, apparently as a result of a la Nina weather system currently being experienced.

Again, GDACS reports that heavy rainfall continues to affect eastern South Africa, Eswatini, and southern Mozambique, causing extensive flooding and resulting in humanitarian impact.

According to media reports, in South Africa, at least twelve people have died. Damage has been reported to infrastructure and agricultural land, and the national government declared a state of disaster in response to floods in seven of our nine provinces.

In Mozambique, the number of fatalities increased to nine, while a number of affected people reached 39,225 in Maputo City and Province, as reported by the National Institute for Disaster Management (INGD). In the last 24 hours, authorities have rescued about 1,400 people in Maputo Province, while 15,403 people have been rescued in the southern part of the country between 7 and 12 February. More than 7,000 houses, 15 health centres, and 15 schools have been damaged or destroyed by flooding. Authorities have begun discharges of the Pequenos Limbombos Dam located south of Maputo City. 

In Eswatini, nearly 260 people have been affected by floods, while extensive damage to some infrastructure, including six bridges, was reported across the country. 

Moderate to locally heavy rainfall was forecast over most of eastern South Africa, most of Eswatini and central-western Mozambique for most of the past week.

The South African Government has declared a second National State of Disaster in response to the flooding. I don’t think we have ever had two states of disaster running concurrently!

Eye Witness News notes that the presidency said there was an urgent need to provide temporary shelter, food and blankets to South Africans affected by flooding caused by recent heavy rains.

Only the Northern Cape and Western Cape have not been affected by the rain.

Roads in Mpumalanga were left damaged while visitors and staff at the Kruger National Park had to be evacuated after some rest camps were flooded.

In Limpopo (north), bordering on Zimbabwe, damage was reported to a hospital.

Roads and bridges were damaged and cars were washed away.

In KwaZulu-Natal, levels 5 and 9 weather warnings were issued at the weekend for parts of the province after persistent rain flooded roads and homes.

Heavy downpours also affected Komani in the Eastern Cape last week, causing flooding of a major hospital and power outages.

“Farmers have suffered crop and livestock losses,” the president’s office said in a statement. The bad weather will require the provision of “temporary shelter, food and blankets to people who have lost their homes, as well as costly and large-scale rehabilitation of infrastructure.”

The National Weather Centre is predicting “persistent and heavy” rains ahead, with the risk of flooding due to “waterlogged soils and saturated rivers”.

And, just when you thought it might be safe to poke your head out of your bunker to see if the coast is clear, Tropical Cyclone Freddy comes barrelling down on Madagascar, travelling straight from east to west, threatening thousands of people when it reaches the northern half of Madagascar next Wednesday. Currently with winds of 220km/h, it is classified as “Intense” and a RED alert for Madagascar has been issued.

While that country has had more than its fair share of weather disasters in the last year, and we feel their pain, we in South Africa tend to worry more about what it is going to do, AFTER it crosses Madagascar. These things tend to weaken a bit over land, but could pick up strength again in the Mozambique Channel, and either carry on due west into Mozambique and far Northern KZN, or turn south-west, and expose the entire eastern coast line of KZN to its fury.

It would appear that the gods of geology and storms are currently cross with mankind (if you believe this kind of tommyrot), and they’re exacting revenge. Let’s try and behave ourselves a bit better in the near future, shall we?

This is “repentant” Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.


On everybody’s mind this week has been the massive series of earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria. GDACS reports following the two severe 7.8 and 7.5 magnitude shocks on Monday the 6th, that there have been over 1500 aftershocks recorded across the area.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) reports, as of 10 February at 5.30 UTC, that there have been more than 18,300 fatalities and over 74,200 injured people across several Provinces in Turkiye. AFAD also reports nearly 75,800 people evacuated to safer areas.

In Syria, UN OCHA and the Syrian Ministry of Health report as of 9 February, more than 3,250 fatalities and nearly 7,300 injured people across many Governorates and in non-government-controlled areas in Northwest Syria.

This means in excess of 20,000 fatalities in all, and the number is expected to rise still further.

Following Syria’s and the World Food Programme’s requests for assistance from the Union Civil Protection Mechanism (UCPM), so far six countries offered assistance, including tents, blankets and other shelter items.

After Türkiye’s request for assistance from the same UCPM, 26 countries offered 38 search and rescue teams, medical teams and thousands of shelter items, tents, and blankets.

In that Turkiye and Syria fall within IARU Region One, Greg Mossop has been busy interacting with the Emcom coordinators for many European countries, and these countries have been indicating that they are sending rescue missions, often with ham radio operators embedded within the teams to assist with their own communications, and those of the devastated areas.

Grant Southey, ZS6GS, National Director of HAMNET offered assistance from South African communicators, but the offer was turned down with thanks, unless the operators were within a rescue mission.

Of course, our internationally acclaimed “Gift of the Givers” has been there from the start, and Dr Sooliman has been issuing reports of assistance provided by South African medical teams. He notes that most if not all the hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, and there is basically nowhere to transport the injured to.

Bad weather, with lots of rain and snow have made search and rescue operations very difficult and, 6-7 days later, the likelihood that anybody will be rescued alive from the destroyed buildings is diminishing. And the aftershocks continue, each of them potentially another big one, or big enough to cause further collapse of damaged buildings, causing further injury.

All in all, it is a terrible situation, from which it will take years to recover.

Yesterday, in sweltering heat, HAMNET’s Western Cape Division provided communications support for the Gryphon 99er Cycle Tour, which takes place from Durbanville out north and east of the area each February. Hamnet has supported this race for the last 14 races, with one year’s absence due to the COVID pandemic in 2021.

HAMNET provided a volunteer force of 16 operators, providing roving duties, and keeping an eye on the riders. Several hams manned dangerous points along the route, where, for example, a narrow bridge that allowed one-way traffic on it was blocked off from the far end by a ham and a traffic officer, to allow riders to negotiate the bridge without worrying about oncoming vehicles. We had operators situated before and after such obstructions, warning the traffic officer beyond of the incoming riders, so he could stop the flow of cars.

It would seem there were about 3000 riders in all, who attempted either the long 100km route, or the shorter 51km ride. The long route left Durbanville in the direction of Wellington, but soon veered north and only turned back to Durbanville in the outskirts of Malmesbury. The shorter route went the same way, but turned west half the way to Malmesbury on the R304 to Philadelphia, before turning back into Durbanville using the same end-route as the long race.

We attempted APRS tracking of all important roving vehicles, as well as the ambulance teams, and back markers, using a temporary digipeater installed on the highest hill, 410 metres above sea level in the centre of the route, which worked very well, and will be removed later in the weekend.

All would have gone perfectly, had the clerk of the weather not intervened. At 3.30am, when I got up, it was 23 degrees outside, and the day turned out still, cloudless and sweltering. By 10 am it was 32 degrees in the shade at the JOC, and by 10h15, the medical staff stopped the back end of the long race from continuing because the levels of heat exhaustion would have been dangerous. All riders more than about 25 km from the finish, were blocked and taken off the course, and riders closer to home than that were assessed at a medical stop for signs of dehydration or near-collapse before being allowed to continue.

By 12 midday, the thermometer registered 36 in the shade at the finish, and all riders were swept off the field and brought to the end before the cut-off time. Luckily by the time all this happened, the front riders of both genders in both races had long since finished, so there were winners, finishers, and sadly, cyclists prevented from finishing.

With the wisdom of hindsight, organisers agreed that, in February, one needs to encourage riders to carry more fluids with them, and medical points and watering points to be able to supply far larger quantities of additional water. February is regarded as our hottest month of the year, though we have occasionally seen this race take place in the rain! Not this time.

Your writer ran the JOC, ably assisted by Carol, ZS1MOM, and I thank her, and the other 14 operators who sat in hot cars for the entire morning, reporting on conditions and calling for sweeps or ambulances to rescue the drop-outs and the injured. We believe there were lots of very hot and dry participants, and seven people were admitted to hospital, with injuries or states of dehydration. Luckily there were no reports of a serious nature.

The current organisers have been managing the race for about 5 years now, and the race runs like a well-oiled machine, with provision made for all kinds of individual problems, for injuries, for closure of the race prematurely, and even evacuation of staff and riders at the finish, in the event of a major disaster, such as smoke inhalation from fires, bomb threats, or terrorist activity. The organizers are to be congratulated for their attention to detail. As they say “If you plan for it, it won’t happen”, and “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 5th February 2023

In spite of what I said last week about “Searching for extra-terrestrial life” rather than “intelligence”, an international team of researchers looking for signs of intelligent life in space have used artificial intelligence (AI) to reveal eight promising radio signals in data collected at a US observatory.

theconversation.com says that the results of their research, published in Nature Astronomy are remarkable. The team hasn’t yet carried out an exhaustive analysis, but the paper suggests the signals have many of the characteristics we would expect if they were artificially generated. In other words, they are the kinds of signals we might pick up from an extra-terrestrial civilisation broadcasting into space.

A cursory review of the new paper suggests these are indeed promising signals. Realistically, it’s most likely that these eight new signals were generated by human technology. But the real story here is the effectiveness of AI and the techniques used by the team to dig out rare and interesting signals previously buried in the noise of human-generated radio frequency interference, such as mobile phones and GPS.

Astronomers working in the field of Seti must filter out interference produced by radio communications here on Earth. In this case, Peter Ma from the University of Toronto and his colleagues unleashed a set of algorithms on a mountain of data collected by the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia, US. The data was gathered through a Seti initiative called Breakthrough Listen, established in 2015 by the investor Yuri Milner and his wife Julia.

Here are the characteristics astronomers look for in signals that could be artificially-generated: firstly they are narrow-band, which means that the radio transmission is confined to only a few frequency channels. They also disappear as the telescope is moved to another direction in the sky, and they exhibit “Doppler drifting”, where the frequency of the signal changes in a predictable way with time. We would expect Doppler drifting because both the transmitter — on a distant planet, for example — and the receiver, on Earth, are moving.

The Breakthrough Listen project’s first candidate signal, called BLC1, was first announced in 2020. But it was later traced to transmissions associated with cheap electronic devices on this planet. The application of AI techniques to the Breakthrough Listen observing programme, however, is a potential game changer for the field. Even seasoned Seti researchers are beginning to think that we might be on the cusp of a momentous scientific breakthrough.

As the writer argued here a few years ago, Seti surveys would greatly benefit from employing multiple radio telescopes, operating in a manner that’s known as a classical interferometer network.

These telescope arrays (groups of several antennas observing together) generate huge amounts of data. With AI onboard, the challenge is perhaps more manageable than previously thought.

Breakthrough Listen is already using telescope arrays such as MeerKAT in South Africa for Seti searches. In Europe, researchers have been experimenting with arrays that span the globe.

This European approach would help us isolate signals from human-made interference, give us multiple independent detections of individual events, and permit us to localise signals to individual stars and possibly orbiting planets.

These are exciting times, and that first detection of extra-terrestrial biology may be just around the corner. Thank you to theconversation.com for these excerpts.

From the UK Daily Mail comes an article that says: “Forget Tik Tok and Instagram – children and teenagers want to learn Morse Code!”

The article says that, despite being created 180 years ago and not being a requirement for amateur radio operators to learn since 1990, it has been kept alive by radio enthusiasts – and now more young people are getting involved. 

A combination of pandemic lockdowns forcing youngsters to learn something new, and the use of Morse Code by popular K-Pop bands, has led to ‘a renaissance’ in teens wanting to learn the once ground-breaking form of communication.  

Michael Stanton, 56, from Thatcham, West Berkshire in the UK, said K-Pop is partially responsible for the surge in popularity from younger generations.

South Korean boy bands NU’EST and TXT have both used Morse Code within their music videos, and even communicate hints about upcoming songs to fans.

Michael said that, during the lockdowns, the internet exploded, the ways of communicating got better and lots of the radio things people were doing moved to the internet – including the ability to use Morse Code. It therefore became more accessible to all age groups. 

And, there have been these K-Pop bands, TXT being the most notable, that have been using Morse Code, reports Michael Stanton.

At the start of TXT’s song Crown, Morse Code is used to spell out the title before the song gets underway.

Similarly, NU’EST’s song Help Me spells out its title at the start of the song. NU’EST even had flashing lights, communicating in Morse Code, on their website to reveal the titles of their upcoming songs. 

This prompted young fans of the bands to scour the internet trying to find out the hidden meaning of the beeps. 

‘These bands have used Morse Code quite a lot in their music and communicating with fans. It is mostly written down, but in their music, they obviously use the sounds,’ Mr Stanton explained.

‘And that sparked quite a lot of interest amongst the younger generation, teenagers who think “hey my pop idols do this Morse Code thing, it seems quite cool, I can have secret conversations with people using it”.’

So, in a world where technology is continually advancing, Morse Code appears to offer an escape for some, providing a focus on communicating with others away from the pesky troubles of using social media.

Finally, here’s a snippet about a frog that doesn’t….well….ribbit! Writing in sciencenews.org, McKenzie Prillaman says this newfound frog makes no noise at all.

Many frogs have unusual characteristics, from turning translucent to being clumsy jumpers. The recently discovered amphibian lacks a voice. It joins a group of seven other voiceless frog species called spiny-throated reed frogs that reside in East Africa. This type was discovered in Tanzania’s Ukaguru Mountains.

Instead of croaking, the spines on male frogs’ throats might help their female counterparts recognize potential mates via touch, sort of like braille, says conservation biologist Lucinda Lawson of the University of Cincinnati.

I can’t see this thing working in humans. I mean – how do you get the female of your desires to come up close and read the messages your Adam’s apple are trying to convey, by touch??

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa

HAMNET Report 29th January 2023

According to GDACS, the death toll from Tropical Cyclone CHENESO over Madagascar has risen to at least 8, and 10 others are missing. Approximately 60,603 individuals have been temporarily displaced to 55 accommodation sites, while up to 47,000 people have been affected.

Widespread damage has been reported to 13,000 houses, and about 100 classrooms, disrupting access to education for a number of students. Several communities in northern and central Madagascar have been isolated, as roads have been damaged by floods or landslides. 

Between the 26th and 28th January, CHENESO is expected to intensify, while moving south over the Mozambique Channel, not far from the Malagasy coast. We must hope that it doesn’t cross the Mozambican coast, or threaten the Northern parts of KZN.

Businesstech.co.za says that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has declared a provincial state of disaster in Gauteng.

[Of course this is old news to the inhabitants of Gauteng.]

In a gazetted notice on Wednesday (25 January), the department said the state of disaster in the province is in effect from 23 January and will continue until such time as authorities deem the disaster over – or the regulated period lapses.

The declaration of a provincial state of disaster follows severe flooding that took place in the City of Joburg and the greater Johannesburg region in the latter parts of December 2022.

Torrential rain, hail storms and flooding resulted in the loss of life, damage to property, infrastructure and the environment, and left municipalities like the City of Joburg struggling to deal with the fallout.

Damage from the floods has been exacerbated in recent weeks by ongoing load shedding – though this has not been folded into the official declaration. Eskom granted the City of Joburg a three-day reprieve from load shedding following the floods, but the city has since continued to struggle along with the rest of the country in dealing with the blackouts.

The power crisis has left the city to deal with other disasters.

Through the classification of this occurrence as a provincial disaster, the primary responsibility to coordinate and manage the disaster, in terms of existing legislation and contingency arrangements, is designated to the provincial executive.

Other organs of state have been called to strengthen further support to existing structures to implement contingency arrangements and ensure that measures are put in place to enable the Gauteng Province to deal effectively with the effects of the disaster.

Through the declaration of a Local State of Disaster, the provincial government will be able where necessary, to access resources from the provincial and national spheres of government, and accelerate supply chain management processes.

Writing for Nautil.us, Paul Sutter says basically that we should give up the idea of searching only for extra-terrestrial intelligence, which may in fact be quite rare, and search rather for extra-terrestrial life. He suggests that astronomical signatures of life on exoplanets may be easier to spot.

Perhaps it’s been quiet because intelligence is not bound to follow the same technological track as us—cultural development, just like evolution, has no prescribed course after all. Or perhaps other civilizations only briefly broadcast in radio signals before switching to other, more targeted and efficient methods of communication. Perhaps the gulfs of time and space separating intelligences have simply been too vast to cross yet.

Or perhaps we truly are alone.

But the likely answer is that most other life forms out there don’t meet the capital “I” of SETI’s target: “intelligence.” This approach of listening for alien peers, which dates back to the 19th century, was founded on the idea that intelligent life is loud and messy, broadcasting its existence—even unintentionally—for any careful listener to discover. And those noises, those disruptions in the expected patterns of the universe, could theoretically be easy for us to spot—even with relatively rudimentary 20th-century radio telescopes.

But all life, even humble, simple single-celled organisms, can be loud in its own way. And with new and near-term technology, we are now better poised than ever to detect even the simplest biology far, far afield. Not radio blasts, but subtle signatures. In other words, the traces not of equals, but of anylife.

So the time has come to SETL: Search for Extra-terrestrial Life.

The programme to search for extra-terrestrial life has, in the past decade, become among the fastest growing areas in astronomy, combining the latest insights from astrophysics, chemistry, and biology to try to find any signs of life whatsoever in an alien world. Without the loudness of alien technological signals, it seems like a hopeless pursuit to search for biological whispers among the approximately one trillion exoplanets in the Milky Way. These would be the ultimate needles in the cosmic haystack.

But the SETL approach has two related advantages over one searching for technologically advanced civilizations. One, the likelihood of success is much higher. It stands to reason that intelligent life would be much rarer than simpler life. Life has existed on our own planet for about as long as we’ve had a planet, and we only developed stone hand axes, let alone radio technology, basically yesterday. So there are probably many more worlds out there teeming with some form of life, making those planets an easier catch.

Two, one of the great hallmarks of life in any form is its ability to completely mess up a planet. Without life, worlds reach a certain equilibrium state governed by the simple physics of distance from a parent star, starting composition, and rational chemical and geologic processes.

But life as we know it just loves to throw everything out of balance. The classic example on Earth is the presence of abundant oxygen in our atmosphere. Sure, oxygen is ridiculously common in the universe, and there’s plenty of it on Earth, bound to silicon to make rocks or carbon, for example. But loose oxygen is very unstable, and without life, there would be little to no oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere. There’s simply no physical or chemical or geological process that generates oxygen in abundance and keeps replenishing it. But there is a biological process underway here: photosynthesis, which creates an atmosphere that is remarkably different than it would be without life.

Methane is also a common by-product of life on Earth, created by decomposing organic matter.

So the search for life abroad in the cosmos likely won’t hinge on a single, eureka-like moment of discovery, but rather the slow and deliberate accumulation of evidence.

Thank you to Professor Paul Sutter for this truncated version of his article.

Let’s go on searching, shall we?

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.