Taking Stock - April 20, 2015

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One of the things we humans have been desperate to prove over the last couple of millennia or so is that we are not alone.

Whether it’s the existence of god or life outside the solar system (even little green men from Mars if you’re so inclined) we’ve been scouring the heavens for answers for thousands of years.

It’s a bit deep for me, I know, but don’t worry, amid the worrying about our planet being a lone Garden of Eden amid the vast nothingness of the Universe, there’s a fatuous chuckle to be had.

And it’s not at the expense of that gallivanting master of mesmerising science Professor Brian Cox - who insists on standing in the world’s most exotic location to baffle us with astrophysics (at the licence fee payers’ expense of course).

No, this is a tale of great hope, brought smack bang down to earth with the greatest of bumps.

I take you to Australia, to the Parkshill Observatory where, for the last couple of years, boffins have been trying to decode a series of mysterious radio signals.

There was hope it might be a new type of particle emitted by a black hole or better yet, proof of life elsewhere in the universe.

I say the scientists were brought down to earth with a bump but, in fact, a cheery ‘ping’ might be more appropriate.

It turned out to merely be careless use of a microwave oven - the offending article next door to the lab in the staff kitchen.

The radio telescope wasn’t, as it turned out, picking up messages from another world - it was merely keeping an unerringly accurate record of Bruce warming up his brew.

On the scale of epic failures in human exploration it doesn’t rank particularly highly.

There have been far greater failures from which we have ploughed on to make great discoveries and stunning leaps forward.

My advice to those boys in the outback is quite simple... keep searching, don’t give up.

Oh, and buy a hotplate.