HAMNET Report 8 July 2018

In the never-ending discussion as to the likelihood that there is intelligent life out there, a new report from Quartz says there’s a good chance that humans are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, according to a new study submitted to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. As Quartz reports, researchers at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute applied existing knowledge of biology, chemistry, and cosmology to the Drake equation. This was created by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961 as an attempt to calculate the number of intelligent civilizations that could be in our galaxy. He included factors like the average rate of star formation and the average lifespan of intelligent civilizations.

They estimate there’s a 53 to 99.6 percent chance we’re alone in the galaxy, and a 39 to 85 percent chance we’re the only intelligent life to be found in the entire universe.

“Where are they?” the researchers ask, referring to the classic Fermi Paradox, which asserts that intelligent extraterrestrial beings exist and that they should have visited Earth by now. “Probably extremely far away, and quite possibly beyond the cosmological horizon and forever unreachable.”

Seth Shostak doesn’t buy it. Shostak is senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, a research organization that analyzes radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Part of the challenge with mathematical modelling like this, Shostak says, is that the data are limited; scientists just haven’t looked at very many star systems.

“I could walk outside here in Mountain View, California and not see too many hippos strolling the streets,” he tells Mental Floss. “But it would be incorrect for me to say on that rather limited basis that there’s probably no hippos anywhere. It’s a big conclusion to make on the basis of a local observation.”

Moreover, they may not even know what to look for in the solar systems they have reviewed. The SETI Institute examines radio communications and light signals, but there’s always the possibility that an intelligent civilization has attempted to contact us using means we may not have developed or even considered yet.

The Fermi Paradox itself may be naïve in its understanding of the universe, Shostak says. “You could have said the same thing about Antarctica in the 1700s. A lot of people wondered, ‘Is there a continent down there?’ On the one hand, you could argue there was [a continent], and on the other hand, you could say, ‘Look, there’s an awful lot of water in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and there’s no continents there, so why should there be one at the bottom of the ocean?’”

In other words, any conclusions about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence are likely to be presumptive, made before any solid data is released or discovered. The truth may be out there, Shostak says. We just haven’t found it yet!

Now a report back about Hamvention near Dayton in May that shows the third highest attendance ever, at 28417 visitors, only 900 less than last year’s attendance, also at the new venue at Xenia. The organisers feel that there was slight reluctance on the part of rank and file amateurs to attend, because of reservations based on last year’s muddy flea market, and promised upgrades which were late in being announced.

Hamvention’s 2018 theme was “Amateur Radio…Serving the Community,” and the event highlighted emergency communication forums – many put on by ARRL – plus a big display of emergency communication vehicles. Nearly 800 volunteers put in a lot of their time before and during the convention to make it the success it was.

Last week’s Tropical Storm blew itself out alongside South Korea without doing much damage, but this week we have a new threat. Tropical Cyclone Maria-18 has been bearing down on the South coast of China, threatening to sideswipe Japan as it travels from South-East towards  North-West. On Thursday it was leaving the Guam area, and moving towards the Chinese coast, with Japan to its North and Taiwan to its South, and threatening an estimated population of 19 million people with wind-speeds of about 120km/h. Wind-speeds may reach 259 km/h, making it a category 5 storm. It’s main effect is to be expected on Monday, when it approaches the Chinese mainland.

Meanwhile, heavy rains already falling in Japan have killed at least 20 people and resulted in the ordered evacuation of 1.9 million people from threatened areas. Intense rainfall triggered huge landslides and flash floods in Hiroshima, Okayama, Kyoto and other regions, while hampering rescue operations with dozens of people reportedly missing. Some areas have been hit by more than a metre of rainfall, according to the government, while around 48,000 troops, police and firefighters have been deployed for rescue operations. We hope there Ham radio operators amongst them.

The Japan Meteorological Agency upgraded its alert system to the highest level—only issued when the amount of rain is expected to be the highest in decades—in large areas of Western Japan. Heavy rain was forecast to continue until Sunday in Western and Eastern Japan.

And the Hurricane Watch Net is having its attention drawn to early tropical depressions in the Atlantic Hurricane Basin. One such depression, entitled TD 3 at the moment, has been modelled by computers, and may grow and move up along the US East Coast into Nova Scotia, Canada.

A compact tropical cyclone, named Beryl intensified on Friday night to become the first hurricane of the season in that area. It is predicted to remain East of the Lesser Antilles until today (Sunday), and hopefully will weaken and dissipate before reaching the islands. Maximum winds so far seem to be in the 130 km/h range.

Luckily, the Western Cape Province is not having that kind of rain, but we are very happy to be able to report the City of Cape Town and surrounding dams currently at an average of 52.4% full. Our biggest dam, Theewaterskloof, is the slowest to fill, currently at 38.5% full, but there is a lot of river water still flowing in to it, and a lot of snow on the surrounding mountains still to melt and run in to all the dams, so we’re nowhere near finished with this rainy season yet. July and August’s rain has still to fall.

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