Perhaps they just came up woefully empty in their search here on Earth, but scientists are hunting for intelligent life in outer space – and they plan to begin sending messages to aliens in 2018.
While astronomers have long scanned the stars with radio telescopes, hoping to detect some life form in the great beyond, alien hunters in a network known as Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or METI, are ready to take the search to the next level.
By chatting with aliens, of course.
Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, is leading a research group that’s determined to send messages to extraterrestrials.
Vakoch’s team has faced opposition from some in the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, community. In February 2015, 28 top SETI scientists published a letter warning of the dangers of reaching out to alien life forms.
“Intentionally signaling other civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy raises concerns from all the people of Earth, about both the message and the consequences of contact,” the 28 scientists wrote. “A worldwide scientific, political and humanitarian discussion must occur before any message is sent.”
Specifically, the scientists are concerned that:
- An alien’s “reaction to a message from Earth cannot presently be known.” Earthlings know nothing about the space inhabitants, their intentions, their capabilities or whether they’re benign or hostile.
- Because Earthlings are so far behind when it comes to space communications, “it is likely that other communicative civilizations we encounter will be millions of years more advanced than us.”
- The scientists worry that Earthlings are still decades away from “creating a comprehensive search for radio signals similar to those produced by our own technology. They warn, “As a newly emerging technological species, it is prudent to listen before we shout.”
- They say nearby advanced space inhabitants may have already detected Earth’s radio transmissions, “such detections are far more difficult than detecting a focused radio or optical signal sent from a large telescope.”
- In fact, they argue, it’s not even necessary to send powerful electromagnetic signals into space to study interstellar communication or develop a plan to respond to alien messages sent to Earth.
- Finally, they warn, “Opponents of METI would vocally condemn METI transmissions, confusing the public about, and imperiling funding for, bona fide scientific endeavors related to extraterrestrial life.”
But Vakoch and his team of METI researchers aren’t too concerned with the warnings.
“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’s Daniel Oberhaus. “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.”
Both the SETI and METI communities agree that any language transmitted to aliens should be rooted in math and science.
“Some of the most prominent messages of the past have tried to cover everything,” Vakoch told CNet. “We’re taking the opposite approach. Rather than trying to communicate everything [about math, science and life on Earth], we are focusing on saying a few things very clearly. For our first messages, we are emphasizing the essentials of math and physics.”
The METI International team will begin by blasting the messages to nearby stars, particularly ones that have planets in habitable zones.
Vakoch told the site his team is determined to learn how to communicate with aliens so Earthlings aren’t left in the dark once the space beings try to talk to us.
“Many of our most severe problems on Earth today are due to a focus on immediate gratification,” Vakoch said. “If future generations of SETI researchers are looking for replies to today’s transmissions, committed to a multigenerational scientific project, the very act of continuing to look will be a success in itself, whether or not they ever find life out there.”
The news of the scientists’ 2018 transmissions sparked dozens of online comments, including the following:
- This will not end well for Earth.
- Yeah, I’m thinking that is a bad idea. We are going to get our a–es handed to us if anyone comes.
- This is akin to the Mayans or the Aztecs sending an invitational message to Spain.
- Threat of nuclear war, religious terror, racial strife, arguments over climate change, globalism vs. nationalism … The message: We still need a few years to figure out our own s–t, K?
- Yes, let’s send them messages right away. Give the death star something to home in on.
- Bad idea. We should passively listen until we know what we are dealing with. If aliens are anything similar to humans, things may turn bad. Throughout history, what have humans done when new lands were discovered? We conquer and pillage the land from the indigenous (less advanced) people. Advertising our whereabouts is not smart in an unknown universe.
- Lack of signs? Maybe there has been an old, old master race eradicating civilizations once they are discovered so it doesn’t have to share the cosmos. … Selfishians.
- Unfortunately, the transmission will be received by the XzgyddllIax, a binary race, which will read only the null values in the transmission, and interpret it to read, “Eat Us! We’re chewy on outside with delectable crunchy center.”