A group of scientists intends to send another signal to outer space in order to reach extraterrestrial life, but some fear it might effectively end life on Earth.
Everyone likes mysteries of space, right? UFOs, crop circles and other mysteries fascinate a lot of people, and scientists are no exclusion. Those who decided to dedicate their work to search for signs of extraterrestrial life form an international network called the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). These are the people who sit in laboratories of huge radio telescope installations and analyze radio frequencies that come from outer space. Unfortunately, outer space has been quiet so far.
Such poor progress has led to emergence of a splinter faction within SETI who believe Earth should proactively send messages to aliens. They believe that powerful earth radio telescopes could be used to transmit a radio signal that would draw aliens’ attention towards Earth.
The faction that calls itself Messaging for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (or METI), has announced they are going to transmit such a signal in 2018.
According to Douglas Vakoch, the president of the group, “If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information.”
Those who have watched the movie “Contact” might be already familiar with the concept of sending radio signals into space. However, while the Adolf Hitler 1936 broadcast depicted in the movie was way too weak, there were other attempts, one of them being the 1974 transmission that used 1 Megawatt of power and targeted star cluster Messier 13, which is more than 20,000 light-years away. Of course, radio signals also travel at the speed of light, so the 1974 signal will still take 20,000 years to reach its target.
According to Vakoch, all such attempts contained one fundamental mistake.
“Some of the most prominent messages of the past have tried to cover everything. We’re taking the opposite approach,” he told in an interview to CNET.
“Rather than trying to communicate everything, we are focusing on saying a few things very clearly. For our first messages, we are emphasising the essentials of math and physics,” he added.
According to Vakoch, aliens might have vastly different language and even have troubles deciphering images that would otherwise be perfectly clear to any of us. In particular, aliens might fail to realize how to transcript earthly flat images into true three-dimensional space. However, if there is something constant in the Universe, it’s math and physics.
However, there are a number of scientists who say sending such a signal would be a tremendously dangerous thing to do.
In the words of CNET, “if the aliens happen to be friendly, no problem. But if they’re hostile, that means we’re essentially sending out a beacon that says “ATTACK HERE.”
One of the best known opponents of sending an interplanetary message is Professor Stephen Hawking, who believes that should aliens land on Earth, they are likely to conquer it.
“If aliens visit us, the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” he said in an interview, according to Daily Mail.
“There’s a possibility that if we actively message, with the intention of getting the attention of an intelligent civilisation, that the civilisation we contact would not necessarily have our best interests in mind,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, but not without acknowledging that a happy outcome is also possible.
Vakoch, however, dismisses such speculations with optimism.
“One of the reasons people are so afraid of METI is that it seems riskier to do something than to do nothing,” Vakoch told CNET. “When we try to evaluate the risks and benefits of an unknown situation where we have little or no actual data, we fall back on the most vivid images that come to mind. But just because the first images of alien contact that come to mind are horrific, that doesn’t mean they’re realistic.”