What would you say to an alien? Feb 13, 2012 16:35:08 GMT 1
Post by ronigical on Feb 13, 2012 16:35:08 GMT 1
What would you say to an alien?
Thirty-five years ago, a gold-plated record was lofted into the cosmos with a greeting card for the first extraterrestrials who found it. The golden plaque, attached to the Voyager spacecraft, was etched with a medley of Earth sounds, from a baby's cry to musical selections ranging from a Bach fugue to Chuck Berry's upbeat "Johnny B. Goode."
Not long after the probe was launched, a psychic played by Steve Martin on "Saturday Night Live" revealed that aliens had promptly delivered this urgent four-word response: "Send more Chuck Berry."
The recent news that a concerted scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence by the SETI Institute in California has resumed raises fundamental questions: If we made contact, what would we say? And what answers would we anticipate?
If intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, two giant hurdles would have to be overcome to have a conversation. Dialogue would probably be intergenerational — a response to a message sent by us would likely be delivered to a distant descendant.
Moreover, could we find a common language? Maybe the language of science, because, said Jacob D. Haqq-Misra, a research scientist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, "physical principles, such as the structure of a hydrogen atom or the action of gravity, likely apply everywhere in the galaxy."
Still, in an era when bureaucrats produce contingency plans for every eventuality, it strains credulity to imagine that no protocol exists to carry on a conversation that may already have begun.
"There is, in fact, a protocol developed by the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute of Space Law," said Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research. "It boils down to, if you get what looks like a signal from another civilization, then let the whole world know, but don't reply until there's been international consultation."
The Voyager's record carried greetings in 55 languages.
But some scientists warn that an invitation, or even contact, would make us vulnerable to evil aliens. "The biggest thing I'd want to get out of the conversation is information about the ET's values," said Seth Baum, a doctoral student at Penn State and executive director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute. "Do they want to help us, harm us or do something else? This is crucial because in all likelihood the ET civilization will be more advanced than ours and thus able to get what it wants."
Other scientists suggest that given the number of radio and television broadcasts that have leaked into the universe, aliens may already know we're here. The SETI Institute has begun an online outreach program called Earth Speaks to solicit messages.
Perhaps help is on the way. If space aliens are benign, maybe their goal is to foster a cooperative conversation here on Earth.
"There is only an infinitesimal chance that the plaque will ever be seen by a single extraterrestrial, but it will certainly be seen by billions of terrestrials," B.M. Oliver, vice president for research at Hewlett-Packard, said after the Voyager, which is still hurtling into space at nearly 100,000 miles an hour, was launched. "Its real function ... is to appeal to and expand the human spirit and to make contact with extraterrestrial intelligence a welcome expectation of mankind."