Messaging ET: Knock knock! Who’s there?… It’s us, Aliens!9 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
Aliens. Extraterrestrials. Little green men. ET. Martians.
What do you call them? Aliens have, for decades, fascinated those of us here on Earth. We have imagined what our space neighbours look like and sound like through dozens and dozens of books, comics, TV shows, movies and even video games! In fact, aliens have been included in pop culture since the 1800s!
But why are we talking about aliens today? Are they out to get us? Did someone spot a UFO? Did an alien leave a message that they want to take over the Earth? AHHHHHHH!
Worry not, dear readers. None of the above scenarios is happening, and probably won’t either since we actually are not sure about intelligent life on other planets.
The reason we are talking about aliens is because we humans are so fascinated by them, that we sending out messages into space for them! Yes, you read that right. And, it won’t be the first time either. But let’s talk about this latest attempt.
A special message
A NASA-led team of international scientists are once again planning to reach out to aliens. They have developed a binary-coded message that they propose beaming out across the galaxy, in the hopes of finally establishing contact with aliens.
‘Beacon in the Galaxy’, an interstellar message, contains a wide variety of information — basic concepts in math and physics on communication, digital images of the human form, elements of DNA, a time-stamped depiction of the solar system, and Earth’s system. It ends with an invitation for the aliens to beam back a reply.
In an interesting twist, the scientists say the position of the planet is incorporated in hopes of not only receiving a message from aliens, but also receiving a physical vehicle to Earth at “some point in the future”. Which basically means we are inviting them to hop into their vehicles (whatever those look like), and pay a visit to our planet during their space travels!
Dr Jonathan Jiang of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is heading the experiment. The group of researchers plans to broadcast the message right into the heart of the Milky Way, using the SETI (Search of Extraterrestrial Intellignece) Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in California and the Chinese 500-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope.
“Humanity has, we contend, a compelling story to share and the desire to know of others – and now has the means to do so,” say the scientists in their report.
According to the report, a future message could include additional frequencies of greater complexity, incorporating major pieces of music such as Beethoven’s, Mozart’s, or Bach’s symphonies.
Will anyone get the message?
Experts believe it is very unlikely that an intelligent civilisation will intercept the message, and even if it happens, establishing an intelligent, fruitful conversation can prove challenging since it will take tens of thousands of years for the message to reach its intended target.
Another possibility is that the aliens might not understand the message and consider it gibberish.
And then there are other concerns…What if we somehow invite the wrath of civilisations far superior to ours?
Famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking while speaking to Discovery Channel during the filming of a documentary, warned that we need to refrain from trying to contact aliens or we just might end up with the kind of attention we regret.
“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
Previously, astronomer Joe Gertz of SETI had expressed concerns that attempts to communicate with aliens could lead to “the reckless endangerment of all mankind.”
Dr Jiang and his colleagues remain optimistic, however. They suggest that an alien society capable of communication throughout the cosmos may have learned the value of peace and collaboration and that mankind may benefit greatly from their knowledge.
They write, “logic suggests a species which has reached sufficient complexity to achieve communication through the cosmos would also very likely have attained high levels of cooperation amongst themselves and thus, will know the importance of peace and collaboration,” adding that if communication were to be established, the outcome would vastly outweigh the concerns.
How do you feel about this? Do you think communication between humans, and aliens will benefit us or will lead to our destruction?
The message designed by Jiang and his team builds on previous messages that humanity has sent to space. In fact, researchers timed the creation of the new message for the 50th anniversary of the Arecibo message, the first high-power attempt to contact ET.
That 1974 message used binary code and conveyed information about our counting system, common important elements and a map of the solar system. The new message also encodes information in binary and describes basic math, physics and biology that aliens would need in order to understand humans,.
The new message is more advanced than its predecessors in several key ways. First, its map of Earth’s location in the Milky Way is more precise than the one in the Arecibo message.
In 1972 and 1973, the Pioneer spacecraft were launched with a pair of plaques depicting a line drawing of a man and a woman and symbols meant to show where the craft originated. The plaques were the first message from humanity designed to travel outside the solar system, but the chances of them being found in the vastness of space are minuscule.
In 1977, NASA launched a similar long-shot effort on the Voyager spacecraft, the Golden Record. The record contains music, animal sounds and spoken greetings in 55 languages.
An important question that comes up is — Who speaks for Earth? In the absence of any international consultation with the public, decisions about what kind message to send and where to send it, are in the hands of a small group of interested scientists.
Sources: Space.com, New York Times, Scientific American, Live Science