Science and Technology

Carl Sagan

Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, and science communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space in 1974, the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them.

Interestingly we got a reply to this message in a crop circle in 2001.


Chilbolton Observatory is one of Hampshire’s finest abandoned airfields. During World War II it was once home to squadrons of Supermarine Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Typhoons, and Vampires.  Opened in 1940 as a satellite airfield for RAF Middle Wallop it was used by the RAF and USAAF. After the war it was used for flight tests before being closed in 1961. Today it is the site of Chilbolton Observatory, a facility that carries out atmospheric and radio research.

This Summer, precisely one year after a strange fractal “crop glyph appeared in a field just outside the Chilbolton Radio telescope grounds, in Hampshire, England, another, even stranger glyph appeared (above). According to Darcy Ladd, Manager of the Chilbolton Radio Observatory, in an interview with Colin Andrews, the image appeared “suddenly on the morning of August 14th.”

According to Mr. Ladd, “No unusual activity was seen that morning, in the field or [in terms of] aircraft overhead, etc ….” According to the Manager, Chilbolton does have security cameras, but they are not equipped for night vision surveillance. The cameras captured “nothing unusual.”

The image which confronted the Telescope personnel that morning bore a striking resemblance to the July, 1976 Viking image of the “Face on Mars”

Though first noticed by the telescope employees on the 14th, the Chilbolton “Face” was not reported (and NOT by the facility staff) until Sunday, August 19th.
Its announcement in England caused an immediate worldwide sensation on the Internet – not the least, because it struck many observers as a deliberate effort to remind everyone of the infamous Face on Mars. For one thing, the Face crop effort seemed to be designed to replicate the light and shading of the original Viking Cydonia image.
The Face turned out, under a “Gaussian blur filter” (thanks to Paul Lowrance – below, left), to bear a strong resemblance to a somewhat primitive human face – The deliberately-created illusion in this glyph (below) -– that the lighting is coming from the upper left (as in the original Viking Cydonia frame), when in fact Steve Alexander’s aerial photograph was taken with the sunlight on the field coming from the lower right – is further testimony to the superb optical physics embodied in this effort.

And, remember – -this was achieved in a waving field of wheat, not the most permanent medium to work with.  And there was another “cute” touch: the Face glyph was placed in the field in such a way that the “tramline” scanned across the “nose” cuts it almost exactly in half – another subtle reminder of the dual-Face image at Cydonia? 

Yet there are other reasons to take this possible “Chilbolton-Cydonia” link seriously.

As noted previously, precisely a year before the “Face glyph” was created in this English field, another glyph suddenly appeared (below).

Michael Lawrence Morton, carrying on the work of Carl Munck (first presented by Richard C. Hoagland at the UN, in 1992), found a stunning “geometric matrix” connection between these two sites – the Chilbolton field and Cydonia.

In fact, in decoding the location of the fractal glyph from the year 2000 (below), Morton determined an astonishing set of linkages on his grid system between Chilbolton and literally the Face on Mars itself.

This array of circumstantial evidence has led us to conclude that the Face-glyph, appearing in the same field on August 14th, 2001, a couple hundred feet away from the 2000 glyph, may indeed have been intended as a “reminder” of the Cydonia Face (below).

But why there… and why now?

According to Manager Ladd, five days after the Face initially appeared, a second striking – and strikingly different – glyph suddenly materialized in the same field (below) – only a few hundred feet from the “Face.”

But this second glyph, at first dubbed the “Persian carpet,” had a far more compelling story to tell than the mere appearance of “a “face.” Crop circle investigators in England quickly realized that this second glyph was a near dead ringer for a “SETI” (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) message composed and transmitted from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico in 1974 – 27 years before and thousands of miles away from this Chilbolton field (below, left).

That original Message, conceived by Frank Drake, the late Carl Sagan, and a few other colleagues at Arecibo, contained information about the human race, our solar system, and our means of communication.  Yet, after a second look, there were subtle but crucial differences between this historic SETI transmission, and the apparent “alien response” appearing at Chilbolton in 2001.

The obvious question that’s been on everybody’s mind is: “Are these for ‘real,’ or a just clever hoax?” Since the first appearance of “crop circles” in England, in the early 1970’s, this question has hovered over every new appearance… now numbering in the literal thousands.

Eventually, samples from “circles” compared with planets from unaffected fields, revealed puzzling physiological and molecular changes in “circle” crops that are simply impossible to attribute to “boards and chains.” But, since there are no scientific studies of the plants from the Chilbolton glyphs as yet, what other clues can be used to ascertain the probability that something truly remarkable has happened there?
James Deardorff, former Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado has attempted to calculate such odds. He begins by asking some very basic, common sense questions:

[What is] the probability that hoaxers could:

  • be creative enough to construct a new type of glyph like that, involving rectangular “binary units” in the “Arecibo” response, and no circles,
  • repeatedly practice making the Arecibo glyph first, in some field(s), without these practice attempts being spotted from the air and reported
  • actually carry it out, producing all those right-angle corners in the Arecibo-like pattern, without making any mistakes
  • do it all in just a few hours overnight
  • do it without showing up on the security cameras there, one or more of which looked out towards the relevant direction …
  • do it without leaving undesired trampled stalks or stake holes, etc., behind, from having accessed the location along some tram line and laying out the surveying lines, etc., which would be necessary
  • not claim credit for it afterwards and not offer to show skeptics just how they did it by being willing to quickly reproduce the same designs within a pristine area of a wheat field while under the watchful eyes of veteran crop-circle researchers.

Concerning the probability of (a), we have, on a couple occasions, seen the handiwork of crop-circle hoaxers in a contest. Their patterns consisted of the same elements, and were of the same type, as in (genuine) preexisting crop-circle formations (circles, triangles, stars, and such). Very little creativity. Thus I would estimate the probability of (a) as being p(a) = 0.3 – possible, but not very likely. (Here, p=0 would mean no chance whatsoever it could be a hoax, and p=1 would mean absolute certainty it was a hoax.)
Concerning the probability of (b), since most of the crop-circle formations apparently do get noticed, including hoaxes, so would practice attempts be noticed and reported as either genuine or hoaxes.

Surely several practice attempts would be needed in this case, and this would give away hoaxers’ final version unless they trampled down each practice attempt right away after making it, without being noticed. However, such trampled areas would themselves likely be noticed from the air and/or the perpetrators reported. I estimate the probability of such going unnoticed and unreported as less than 50-50, say 0.3.

Concerning the probability of (c), I notice that there are some 700-1000 right-angle corners of standing stalk involved, on a relatively small scale, in all those binary units of the “returned” Arecibo message. It would be difficult to generate even 30 of them without making a mistake – and once a mistake is made, with the wrong stems bent over to stay, they can’t be raised again. If the chance for error was only 0.5 (50-50) for each succession of 30 corner units, then the probability of making just one right-angle corner come out right is quite high, 0.9782.

However, the probability of one or more persons continuing the process on 800 of them without botching any of the corners or trampling down the wrong spot would be this figure raised to the 800th power, which is only 2 x 10-8 = p(c).

Concerning (d),

  • the time to attempt to accomplish this would be on the order of 20 seconds to correctly emplace each of some 2 x (23 + 73) = 192 tall stakes around the periphery (64 minutes in all)

  • two minutes to string each of 23 parallel “grid” lines (cords) lengthwise and one minute each for 73 shorter parellel lines crosswise (119 minutes in all)

  • 2 minutes each to flatten stalks around the roughly 800 “binary units” of wheat to be left standing (this includes the time necessary to identify where to move to next without trampling the wrong area in the dark, and ducking under the various criss-crossing lines to get there – 1600 minutes in all)

  • some 20 minutes for a couple of rest breaks

  • 45 minutes to remove all stakes and cords and carefully exit without leaving access tracks behind in the field.

This is some 31 hours, suggesting the need for a team of 5 or 6 people, each knowing what their specific tasks are. Since this seems possible, this consideration doesn’t rule either against the hoax or against the “real thing,” which means p(d) = 0.5.
Concerning (e): for a team of 5 or 6 people to do this at night would require a good deal of artificial lighting, along with walkie-talkies so that the head hoaxer could orchestrate the entire endeavor, directing each worker on where to step next or not to step. The odds are not good that such lighting would not have been detected when the security-camera video tapes were examined. Here I estimate p(e) = 0.2 that hoaxers could have done this without their night lights showing up.

Concerning (f), I believe that no stake holes were reported, but the probability that so many of them could have been filled in prior to the hypothetical hoaxing team’s departure without the disturbed ground being noticed and reported later, and similarly for no disturbances along any tram lines showing up on the aerial photos, suggests a low probability of hoaxers getting away with this aspect, say p(f) = 0.1. (Bear in mind that if hoaxers get to a genuine formation prior to serious crop-circle researchers, such hoaxers could deceptively make stake holes, leave behind some string and cigarette butts, etc.)

Concerning (g), I believe the chances are less than even that, if hoaxers had made such unique crop glyphs, they wouldn’t wish to claim credit for it (or them) within a couple weeks afterwards – after a goodly number of paranormal researchers had offered their opinions that the formations were not man-made. This hasn’t happened. So I would estimate p(g) = 0.4, with this value decreasing somewhat as time rolls on without any viable confession forthcoming.
… it turns out that there’s a mathematical way of combining individual probabilities on a yes-no type of hypothesis, in this case a hoax or no-hoax hypothesis, to arrive at an overall probability, P. That’s because probabilities p(a)…p(g) involve independent elements all bearing on the same question of hoax or no-hoax.

The simple formula is:    P = M1/(M1 + M2)
where M1 = p(a)*p(b)*…*p(g) and M2 = [1 – p(a)]*[1-p(b)]*…*[1-p(g)], where the asterisks denote multiplication.

Plugging in, we get:   P = 7 x 10-11

That is – less than two chances out of 10 billion (U.S. billion). So why is the “hoax” hypothesis given any credence at all?

I read somewhere on the Internet that our 1974 Arecibo message contained a few mistakes, and that these were replicated in the agro-glyph, from which the conclusion was drawn by some person that it must be a hoax, since true aliens would surely(!) both know better and would tell us the truth and nothing but the truth. But aren’t the aliens visiting us the past 54 years known for leaving a few crumbs behind for negative skeptics to glom onto?

E.g., UFOs that look somewhat like airplanes except the navigational lights are all wrong and perhaps no wings, or black “helicopters” flying way too low and perhaps making no noise whatever, or crop-circle formations that start out simple and become more complex (as if hoaxers were teaching themselves), etc.

Surely we have to allow that since they could be millions of years advanced over us in their evolution and science & technology, they could also be a bit smarter than us, and have a strategy of dealing with us that includes some feature(s) in their sightings/glyphs that will allow skeptics a way out from believing what they are incapable of believing without going berserk. Hence, if such “mistakes” were indeed present in the glyph, they do not support the hoax hypothesis any more than they oppose it, and do not enter into the above probability analysis.

(If you include some item in the formula that has probability 0.5, it doesn’t alter the mathematical result. If interested in the formula’s derivation, you can find it at:

Obviously, the answer one gets with such a probability analysis depends entirely on the individual probabilities estimated for the independent components of the hypothesized hoax. If you were to do it, your numbers would no doubt be different, yet still yield an outcome of very slim odds of success for a hoax, I’ll wager.

But it is handy to have a formula by which you can obtain an overall probability estimate after the individual probabilities have been hashed over and agreed upon.

Colin Andrews, an electrical engineer now living in the United States (after formerly working for local government in Britain), has for over 30 years attempted to scientifically understand the baffling “crop circle enigma.”

Returning recently to the United States from a first-hand investigative survey of Chilbolton, Andrews reported the following observations:

“… The ‘face’ and the ‘message’ at Chilbolton presented different clews [from the previous Milk Hill formation]. The farmer, at my request, when harvesting the field, lowered his harvester cutting boom to approx 1 inch above ground level. In my experience, this is an excellent method of finding underlay. What I found was VERY revealing indeed.

Each pattern was set out first using a very accurate grid on which the designs were then formed or made. I will show photographs of the under lay later …. What we saw was a beautiful grid, all visible after the overlay of flattened plants had been cut and removed by the harvester.

There is no doubt in my mind that we have a different hand at work in these last three designs and IF it is people, then they certainly have military style precision and even possibly technology. Too soon to draw conclusions but its certainly dammed interesting working through the increasing volume of data …”

So, leaving aside for the time being just “who” might have done this, what can we discern from attempting to analyze the “glyph message” itself? The original “SETI Message” (below, right) shows a variety of binary images (colorized here, for easier visualization) –- composed of “ones” and “zeros” –- meant to tell a story to any ET civilization intercepting it.

To begin with, the digital “pictogram” (below, right) is the product of two Prime numbers: 23 and 73.

This sets the “raster” of pixels – 23 across and 73 down.

  • After (arbitrarily) assigning “black” to the “ones” and “white” to the “zeros” (below, left), decoding can begin
  • The “zeros” and “ones” from right to left produce on the top line the decimal numbers 1-10 (representing the binary equivalents)
  • On the second line are atomic numbers of the basic elements which humans thought (in 1974) made up the foundations of Life – hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus
  • Below that, the formulas for the basic chemical make-up of the five main molecules of DNA
  • Then, a vertical depiction of the DNA double helix wrapped around a central binary spine designed to reveal that we have about 4 billion nucleotides in our own DNA
  • Below that, a humanoid figure [which comes with a code (to the right] depicting the correct average height of human beings, as well as the 1974 population of the Earth (to the left)]
  • Then, on the next line, a map of our entire solar system (showing Earth elevated above the line of other planets, indicating our own “inhabited” planet of origin)

Many people have been speculating whether the new Arecibo crop pictogram in Chilbolton is a hoax or real. The purpose of this message is:

  1. to explain why the DNA part of that pictogram was altered from Sagan’s original
  2. to suggest a return message

The central part of the Chilbolton pictogram shows that a DNA double helix as found on Earth, with 10 base pairs per turn, has been replaced on one side by a novel single-stranded helix with just 6 bases per turn




Thirst for knowledge

He led a feverish existence, with multiple careers tumbling over one another, as if he knew he wouldn’t live to an old age. Among other things, he served as an astronomy professor at Cornell, wrote more than a dozen books, worked on NASA robotic missions, edited the scientific journal Icarus and somehow found time to park himself, repeatedly, arguably compulsively, in front of TV cameras. He was the house astronomer, basically, on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Then, in an astonishing burst of energy in his mid-40s, he co-created and hosted a 13-part PBS television series, “Cosmos.” It aired in the fall of 1980 and ultimately reached hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Sagan was the most famous scientist in America—the face of science itself.

What is Carl Sagan most famous for?

Carl Sagan was one of the most well-known scientists of the 1970s and 1980s. He studied extraterrestrial intelligence, advocated for nuclear disarmament and co-wrote and hosted ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
Carl Sagan was able to explain the science of space in a way everyone could understand. Among his long list of roles and accomplishments, the Cornell professor and NASA advisor is possibly best known for the 13-part television series which reached millions of people worldwide and sealed his place as celebrity scientist — “Cosmos.”

The incomprehensible Sagan argued the hypothesis, accepted since, that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect. the wonder of our own place in it all… Carl Sagan was able to explain the science of space in a way everyone could understand. Among his long list of roles and accomplishments, the Cornell professor and NASA advisor is possibly best known for the 13-part television series, Cosmos, which reached millions of people worldwide and sealed his place as celebrity scientist. Maybe he was teased a bit for his tendency to say “billions”, a lot. But Carl Sagan had this amazing talent for explaining the scientific wonders of the universe without losing the wonder. When he spoke about the science of space, he captured imaginations and held people in thrall. As part of our special series, The Experimenters — we’re uncovering interviews with the icons of science, technology, and innovation — we found this conversation between Studs Terkel and Carl Sagan in the WFMT Studs Terkel Radio Archive. Following “Contact,” the book he wrote with wife Ann Druyan – and the major motion picture that followed it — Carl Sagan spoke with Studs all about our continuing search for intelligent life out there, including how, for a long time, Hollywood just got it wrong.

Greenhouse Effect On Venus

Sagan argued the hypothesis, accepted since, that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect.

Twenty Years after His Death, Carl Sagan Is Still Right

“Science is an enterprise of human beings, so there are all sorts of jealousies and rivalries and unwillingness to admit mistakes,” Sagan said. “But the great advantage is that the culture of science is opposed to these frailties, and the collective enterprise of science undoes them. We give our highest rewards to those who disprove the contentions of our most revered figures.”

That means, he said, that science as a practice was worth defending. “We must convince the most dedicated skeptics, even if there are those who are craven before authority, secular or scientific,” Sagan said. “Even if there are those who believe in the absence of evidence.”

Sagan was no Vulcan; he didn’t hope to replace whatever demons he exorcised from the world with spreadsheets. “The other half of science is a well-honed sense of wonder, and that is uplifting and is spiritual,” he said. “But it can’t be that what feels good is what we should believe, because all sorts of deception lies down that road. It has to be what’s true is what we believe, and the only way humans have figured out to find out what’s true is science.”

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