The more we learn about the cosmos, the more it seems possible that we are not alone. The entire galaxy is teeming with worlds, and we’re getting better at listening — so the question, “Is there anybody out there?” is one we may be able to answer soon. But do we really want to know? If aliens are indeed out there, would they be friendly explorers, or destroyers of worlds? This is a serious question no longer confined to science fiction, because a growing group of astronomers has taken it upon themselves to do more than just listen. Some are advocating for a beacon swept across the galaxy, letting E.T. know we’re home, to see if anyone comes calling. Others argue we would be wise to keep Earth to ourselves. “There’s a possibility that if we actively message, with the intention of getting the attention of an intelligent civilization, that the civilization we contact would not necessarily have our best interests in mind,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. “On the other hand, there might be great benefits. It could be something that ends life on Earth, and it might be something that accelerates the ability to live quality lives on Earth. We have no way of knowing.” Like many other astronomers, Walkowicz isn’t convinced one way or the other — but she said the global scientific community needs to talk about it. That conversation is likely to heat up soon thanks to the Breakthrough Initiatives, a philanthropic organization dedicated to interstellar outreach that’s funded by billionaire Russian tech mogul Yuri Milner. Its Breakthrough Message program would solicit ideas from around the world to compose a message to aliens and figure out how to send it. Outreach for the program may launch as soon as next year, according to Pete Worden, the Breakthrough Initiatives’ director. “We’re well aware of the argument, ‘Do you send things or not?’ There’s pretty vigorous opinion on both sides of our advisory panel,” Worden says. “But it’s a very useful exercise to start thinking about what to respond. What’s the context? What best represents the people on Earth? This is an exercise for humanity, not necessarily just about what we would send.” Members of the advisory panel have argued that a picture (and the thousand words it may be worth) would be the best message. Next comes “more of a technical expertise question,” Wordon says. “Given that you have an image or images, how do you best encrypt it so it can be received?” Breakthrough Message will work on those details, including how to transmit the pictures, whether through radio or laser transmitters; how to send it with high fidelity, so it’s not rendered unreadable because of interference from the interstellar medium; which wavelengths of light to use, or whether to spread a message across a wide spectrum; how many times to send it, and how often; and myriad other technical concerns. The scientific community continues to debate these questions. For instance, Philip Lubin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has published research describing a laser array that could conceivably broadcast a signal through the observable universe. Breakthrough is also working on where to send such a message, Worden adds. The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project is searching for any evidence of life in nearby star systems, which includes exoplanets out to a few hundred light years away. “If six months from now, we start to see some interesting signals, we’ll probably accelerate the Message program,” he says. The fact that there have been no signals yet does pose a conundrum. In a galaxy chock full of worlds, why isn’t Earth crawling with alien visitors? The silence amid the presence of such plentiful planets is called the Fermi Paradox, named for the physicist Enrico Fermi, who first asked “Where is everybody?” in 1950. In the decades since, astronomers have come up with possible explanations ranging from sociology to biological complexity. Aliens might be afraid of us, or consider us unworthy of attention, for instance. Or it may be that aliens communicate in ways that we can’t comprehend, so we’re just not hearing them. Or maybe aliens lack communication capability of any kind. Of course there’s also the possibility that there are no aliens. But those questions don’t address the larger one: Whether it’s a good idea to find out. Some scientists, most notably Stephen Hawking, are convinced the answer is a firm “No.” “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Hawking said in 2010.
Agreed.. As many of you know, here at The Daily Buzz we’ve been calling for not only an increase in our country’s space budgets, both civilian (i.e. NASA) and military (i.e. U.S. Air Force Space Command, and the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, or “SMDC”), but a doubling of those budgets…if not a tripling of their budgets. Under Obama, we saw our space programs cut, and falling woefully behind in the space race that the Russians and Chinese have reignited. For example, for every launch we have at Cape Canaveral, the Chinese have about a hundred. And no, that is NOT hyperbole or exaggeration. As someone who spent a couple years as a “field grade” Army officer in “SMDC,” this is something I know all too well. It is WAY past time we got back into the lead in the space industry! That being said.. While we explore and learn (and build up our space technologies), we would be wise to reconsider broadcasting our efforts, and space shortcomings, to the universe. If you believe that there is the remote possibility of intelligent life out there, then you have to also accept the possibility that they might not be friendly. That’s only logical. To ASSume that they’d be friendly would be mind-numbingly foolish. Taking that a step farther.. If they were intelligent, and weren’t friendly…would we really want them to know not just about our existence…but our technical and military capabilities? Of course not. That would be foolish. And yet, that’s what a lot of these tech hippie wannabes are doing by broadcasting such stuff into the cosmos. They might as well make their message, “Hi. We’re from this planet we call Earth..and boy are we dumb. So, please don’t be mean.” Honestly..it really is that silly, if you think about it. For now, we oughtta focus on exploration, research, and developing our space technologies both civilian AND military. After all, that’s what the Chinese, Russians, and other countries here on Earth are doing. So, let’s focus on that…for now. To read more of this article, click on the text above.