Many scientists fear what many see as an inevitability — first contact with aliens. They reason that reaching out into the vast universe to make that contact — via space probes and other means, such as the messaging initiative from Breakthrough Initiatives — could very well alert aliens who might be hostile to sharing the universe with the human species. Be that as it may, there are scientists who don’t see a proactive approach to contacting aliens as asking for trouble. Some scientists believe an alien outreach program could prove quite beneficial to humanity.
METI (Messaging ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) International President Douglas Vakoch, who is also a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute for Integral Studies in California, believes the dangers attributed to taking an active approach to contacting aliens (as opposed to the more traditional, passive way — listening, the method employed by SETI, or the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), is exaggerated. In an interview with Seeker, he said the fear of what METI, which works to coordinate messaging efforts that could potentially result in the contact with aliens, is attempting is only natural.
“When I talk with other scientists about the potential risk of METI, they agree that the public perception of the danger is overblown,” Vakoch told Seeker. “And that’s natural. We know that our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to vivid images of danger — even when the alleged risk isn’t credible. So when Stephen Hawking warns that aliens could decimate Earthlings just as European explorers conquered the New World, that evocative image sets off our internal alarms — even if the scenario isn’t logically consistent.”
Stephen Hawking famously noted in 2010 in the Discovery Channel docu-series Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking that first contact with aliens might come at a cost. Using the encounter of Christopher Columbus with Native Americans as an example, he pointed out the the occurrence did not work out too well for the Native Americans.
Vakoch says Hawking’s views were based on an erroneous assumption, that star-spanning aliens would have somehow not already known about humanity via all the broadcast signalling — via radio and television transmissions — that has been going on for nearly a century. He says that with almost 100 years of transmitting, our present knowledge of the existence of exoplanets suggests that signals have already traveled nearly 100 light years and been within interception range of hundreds of worlds swinging around all the known stars within 100 light years of Earth. And at least a few of those exoplanets are likely Earth-like and in their parent star’s habitable zone.
“Any civilization that has the ability to hear our message has likely already heard our ‘leakage’ so they already know we are here,” Vakoch reasoned.
So what is the point of sending messages, considering all the broadcast signals that have gone before? Vakoch said, “It’s important to find a way to seriously consider the risks of METI, and not just rely on lurid images of alien conquest.”
He also believes that the content of the message itself should be carefully considered, as should be the targets chosen toward which the messages will be sent. Stars within a radius of 20-30 light years should be chosen as messaging targets.
“And instead of sending messages where it would take 50,000 years to get a reply, we should send messages to stars that are closer so that, even if it takes a decade or two to get a reply, at least it would be in a person’s lifetime.”
Seth Shostak, senior scientist for the SETI Institute, said similar words to Vakoch’s in 2015, telling the Independent that due to the so-called “leakage,” fear over whether or not to actively send messages to try and contact aliens is moot, because “it’s too late to worry about it.”
Besides Vakoch’s METI International, Breakthrough Initiatives, a nonprofit space outreach organization founded by billionaire Yuri Milner and supported by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and, oddly enough, Stephen Hawking, also has plans for what has become known as “Active SETI.” Its Breakthrough Message will soon launch — perhaps as early as next year, according to NBC News — its phase of soliciting ideas for both the message and the method of conveyance.
And although there are many scientists that support the idea of “active SETI,” and quite a few who are opposed to programs like METI and Breakthrough Message, as reported by the Inquisitr, there are also many who are on the fence as to what might be the better course to take.
Lucianne Walkowicz, an astrophysicist at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, told NBC News, “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. 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.”
At present, there still is no definitive answer to whether or not life exists other than on planet Earth. Making first contact with aliens, of course, would supply that definitive answer. And while proactive messaging programs near launch (and up until there is a definitive answer regarding intelligent extraterrestrials), the debate over whether or not “active SETI” — attempting to actualize contact with aliens — is a good idea will continue.
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