Is sending signals to aliens to contact Earth actually safe?

  • Scientists have been trying for 70 years to contact aliens with no success known as “the great silence”.
  • Two international teams of scientists are attempting to communicate with aliens again between 2022-and 2023.
  • The safety of such communication regarding Earth’s location to aliens remains debatable.

Human beings have been trying to get in touch with extraterrestrial beings or aliens for ages. Fuelled by brilliant works of science fiction in literature and cinema by the likes of Spielberg and Cameron, it’s unsurprising that humans believe that we aren’t the only lonely civilization in the universe.

For over 70 years, scientists and astronomers have been scanning for radio signals from other civilizations in search of extraterrestrial intelligence, called SETI. Most scientists are confident that life exists and that some life forms have developed intelligence and technology in the Milky Way galaxy. However, no signals from another civilization have ever been detected to date which is known as “The Great Silence.” While SETI has long been a part of mainstream science, METI, or messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, has been less common. Now scientists are debating whether METI is actually even safe at all.

The history of METI

The history of METI has been quite a rocky road with the concept originating way back in the 1970s. NASA had launched a series of spacecraft known as Pioneer and Voyager with the aim of contacting aliens. In 1972, NASA launched Pioneer 10 towards Jupiter carrying a plaque informing aliens of its origin on Earth. The exact location of these spacecraft still remains unknown.

The first attempt at using radio signals to contact aliens was recorded in 1974 when astronomers sent a message via the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico towards the M13 cluster that lies 25,000 light-years away from Earth. No reply has been received to date.

The future of alien communication

Now, so many years later scientists are gearing up again. Two international teams of astronomers are planning new attempts at alien communication. One of these new messages will be sent from the world’s largest radio telescope, in China in 2023. The telescope will beam a series of radio pulses into the sky with subsequent on and off pulses to relay a digital message. The message is called “The Beacon in the Galaxy” and it includes information regarding the biochemistry of life and human forms along with Earth’s location and a time stamp. This message will be relayed to a group of stars near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 10,000 to 20,000 light-years from Earth.

The other attempt is scheduled for October 4, 2022, and will be organized by a team from the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in England. The Message will be beamed towards the star TRAPPIST-1 which is 39 light-years away. This star has seven planets, three of which are Earth-like worlds in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” with the potential of bearing alien civilizations. The biggest issue with both of these attempts is the turnaround time for a reply since these stars lie lightyears away from Earth.

A question of ethics and safety

Currently, there happens to be no international body or council which regulates the research undertaken by scientists in the name of METI. The first question which arises is in terms of ethics. In simple terms, “Who Speaks for the Earth?” Decisions about the messages to be sent and their location are both controlled by a small group of scientists without any consultation with the public.

The second question, a graver one, is regarding the safety of hosting such communication with aliens. Before he died, iconic physicist Stephen Hawking had warned about the danger of contacting aliens. He argued that aliens might possess superior technology and when given Earth’s location, could even come to visit with malice and destroy humanity. There have been several rebuttals as others believe that Earth can protect itself with advancements in science. Some others believe that superior alien races must already know all about Earth. Either way, in the absence of international control, such experiments in METI continue without guidance or warnings.

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