(ORDO NEWS) — The center of the Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life, but some scientists think alien contact is a bad idea.
If a person gets lost in the wilderness, he has two options. He may be looking for civilization, or he may make himself easily visible by lighting a fire or writing SOS in capital letters.
For scientists interested in the question of the existence of intelligent aliens, the options are about the same.
For more than 70 years, astronomers have been scanning radio and optical signals from other civilizations as part of a project to search for extraterrestrial intelligence called SETI.
Most scientists believe that life exists on many of the 300 million potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy.
Astronomers also believe that there is a strong possibility that some life forms have intelligence and technology.
But no signals from another civilization have ever been found, which is a mystery that is called the “Great Silence”.
Although SETI has long been a part of the scientific community, METI, or reporting of extraterrestrial intelligence, is less common.
I am also on the advisory board of a non-profit research organization that develops messages for extraterrestrial civilizations.
In the coming months, two teams of astronomers are going to send messages into space in an attempt to contact any intelligent aliens that might be out there listening.
These attempts are like lighting a big fire in the woods and hoping someone will find you. But some people question whether it is even wise to do so.
History of METI
Early attempts to make contact with life beyond Earth were quizotic messages in a bottle.
In 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft to Jupiter with a plaque showing a man and a woman and symbols showing the spacecraft’s place of origin.
In 1977, NASA attached the famous gold record to the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
These spacecraft, as well as their twins, Pioneer 11 and Voyager 2, have already left the solar system.
But in the vastness of space, the likelihood that these or any other physical objects will be found is fantastically small.
Electromagnetic radiation is a much more efficient beacon.
Astronomers transmitted the first radio message intended for aliens from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974.
Series 1 and 0 were designed to convey simple information about humanity and biology and were sent towards the M13 globular cluster.
Since M13 is 25,000 light-years away, don’t hold your breath for an answer.
In addition to these targeted attempts to send a message to aliens, unwanted signals from television and radio broadcasts have been leaking into space for almost a century.
This ever-expanding bubble of earthly chatter has already reached millions of stars.
But there’s a big difference between a focused burst of radio waves from a giant telescope and a diffuse leak – the faint signal from a show like “I Love Lucy” disappears under the roar of radiation left over from the Big Bang shortly after it leaves the solar system.
Sending new messages
Nearly half a century after the Arecibo report, two international teams of astronomers are planning new attempts at extraterrestrial communication.
One of them uses a new giant radio telescope, and the other chooses a new attractive target.
One of these new messages will be sent from the world’s largest radio telescope, located in China, around 2023.
A telescope with a diameter of 1,640 feet (500 meters) will emit a series of radio pulses into a wide swath of the sky. These pulses are like 1s and 0s in digital information.
The message is called “A Lighthouse in the Galaxy” and includes prime numbers and mathematical operators, the biochemistry of life, human forms, the location of the Earth and a timestamp.
The team sends a message to a group of millions of stars located near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, 10,000 to 20,000 light-years from Earth.
While this allows the number of potential aliens to be maximized, it means that it will be tens of thousands of years before Earth can get an answer.
Another attempt only targets one star, but with the potential for a much faster response.
On October 4, 2022, a team from the Goonhilly satellite earth station in England will send a message to the TRAPPIST-1 star.
This star has seven planets, three of which are similar to Earth and are in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” – this means that they can have liquid and, possibly, life.
TRAPPIST-1 is only 39 light-years away, so it could take intelligent life as little as 78 years to receive a message and Earth to respond.
The prospect of alien contact raises many ethical questions, and METI is no exception.
The first of these is: Who speaks for the earth?
In the absence of any international public consultation, decisions about what message to send and where to send are in the hands of a small group of interested scientists.
But there is also a much deeper issue. If you are lost in the forest, then finding you is certainly good. When it comes to whether humanity should send a message to aliens, the answer is much less clear.
Before his death, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking spoke openly about the danger of contact with aliens with more advanced technology.
He claimed that they could be malevolent and, if told the location of the Earth, could destroy humanity. Others see no additional risk, since a truly advanced civilization would already know of our existence.
To date, no international regulations govern METI’s operations, so experimentation will continue despite concerns.
So far, intelligent aliens remain in the realm of science fiction.
Books such as Cixin Liu’s “The Three-Body Problem” offer a bleak and thought-provoking perspective on what the success of the METI effort might look like.
In these books, things don’t end well for humanity. If humans ever make contact in real life, I hope the aliens arrive in peace.
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