Are We Ready to Contact Aliens?

Alexa Grittani - 3B Mechanical
Posted on: March 25, 2017

Maybe you are familiar with SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, but there’s a new organization called METI, Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, that plans on taking a more active approach to finding and contacting aliens. METI are preparing to send intentional transmissions to stars with the hope of eliciting a reply from extra-terrestrials.

The organization is continuing with traditional optical SETI, observing and listening for signals from the stars, but this is with the intention of finding the best targets to send their messages to.

There is already controversy surrounding the idea of broadcasting our presence to aliens. It is clear from our media that humans do not assume that alien invaders are peaceful. Stephen Hawking has his own project searching for signs of alien life, but he has no plans to answer any messages.

Stephen Hawking states in his online film, Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, “As I grow older I am more convinced than ever that we are not alone. After a lifetime of wondering, I am helping to lead a new global effort to find out. The Breakthrough Listen project will scan the nearest million stars for signs of life,… but we should be wary of answering back.”  He also previously expressed that aliens, “may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”

Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International points out that, “any civilization that has the ability to travel between the stars to do us harm would already be able to know we’re here. We wouldn’t increase the risks of detection by an advanced, spacefaring civilization by sending intentional signals; we’d only let them know we want to make contact, and we would be able to control the content of our messages, instead of having to rely solely on our accidental messages to represent humankind.”

So if there is an alien race somewhere, advanced enough to come do us harm, then we have already unintentionally advertised our location from our leakage radiation. But then if we are so visible, and no one has come, why are people still convinced that there are extra-terrestrials to be communicated with?

The Fermi paradox argues that there should be a lot of aliens, and it does not make sense that we haven’t heard from any yet. There are billions of stars in our galaxy, and a large number of those stars are orbited by Earth-like planets. Even if only a fraction of those planets can develop and sustain life, that still makes a lot of aliens, some of which might develop interstellar travel. So, where are the aliens?

Vakoch suggests what he calls the “Canadian Hypothesis”. The idea behind the “Canadian Hypothesis” is that aliens are more Canadian than American, meaning they are waiting for an invitation from us, before they come say hi. This is a nice, simple explanation, but there have been previous attempts at contacting extra-terrestrials. Why has there been no response to the messages already sent? Vakoch explains that, “To date, all of Earth’s interstellar messages have been one-off efforts. Several of NASA’s Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft included messages for any extraterrestrials that may intercept them as they drift aimlessly through interstellar space. But most messages have been sent by radar facilities or other radio transmitters. The most famous radio message was transmitted from the Arecibo Observatory in 1974. It was a brief message, lasting only three minutes, and it was aimed at a globular cluster of stars 25,000 light years from Earth. That means if we ever get a reply, it won’t be for another 50,000 years.”

Vakoch also explains what makes the possibility of METI’s success more likely, “METI International’s strategy is different from these past approaches in two ways. First, we intend to repeatedly target the same star over the course of several months or years. This will let any SETI scientists on other planets conduct the same sort of confirmation process that we require to confirm detection of extraterrestrial intelligence. Second, we will focus on transmissions to nearby stars, giving a priority to stars with potentially habitable exoplanets. For example, a red dwarf star nearly 14 light years from Earth is circled by an exoplanet known as Wolf 1061c, whose orbit is within the star’s habitable zone, making it a prime candidate for future METI projects.”

METI has yet to start broadcasting any signals to the skies, but they are continuing optical SETI observations to find the best targets for their projects. They also held a workshop on March 22, in Paris, where the evolution of life on Earth was discussed with the goal of understanding the possible nature of extra-terrestrial life.

Like previous attempts at contacting alien life, METI will be using math and science in their messages. Vakoch explains, “The beauty of starting with math and science is that it provides us with a foundation to describe much more than simply how the universe works. Music, for example, can be described at its most fundamental level using the same concepts that physicists use: frequency, amplitude, and duration. Similarly, the musical notes within chords are related to one another by precise mathematical ratios, and these can be described with simple fractions.”

I hope that after all this work aliens want to message us back. Hopefully we don’t seem too violent to them.