For a long time now, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been listening for any signs of other intelligent life in the universe. Despite a few moments of potential hope such as the WOW signal, the results have been disappointing to say the least. It seems that at least one group of people have grown tired of waiting around for the aliens to call us and taken matters into their own hands. Yes, SETI apparently has some competition in the form of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The San Francisco based group (where else?) cooked up a plan to reach out and touch somebody on an interstellar scale and see if they could elicit a response.
Here’s the thing. This isn’t some proposal posted on the international drawing board and up for discussion. They did it last month all on their own. (Fox News)
Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) International sent an encoded message into space using radio waves known as “Sonar Calling GJ273b,” which the organization’s president and founder Doug Vakoch, believes could be received by intelligent life.
“[The message is] distinctive because it’s designed with extraterrestrial SETI scientists in mind. We sent the sort of signal we’d want to receive here on Earth,” he said in an interview with CNET.
METI’s purpose, along with the well-known Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), has a number of missions, including understanding and communicating “the societal implications and relevance of searching for life beyond Earth, even before detection of extraterrestrial life.”
They sent their signal beaming toward a red dwarf known as Luyten’s Star which is 12 light years away and believed to have an earth sized planet orbiting it in the habitable zone. It’s one of the closest leading contenders for an exoplanet which may harbor life. And considering how long those red dwarf stars live, it could have had a long time to cook something up.
The implications are obvious. What if they actually get an answer in 25 years? And what if that answer comes in a definitely hostile form rather than just a friendly hello? People along the lines of Stephen Hawking have regularly warned the world that attempting to communicate with a possible alien civilization well in advance of our own is probably a disastrous idea. If you want to know how things work out for the less developed species in a first contact scenario with a more technologically advanced one, just ask the Native Americans and multiply the capabilities gap by a million or so.
Some are no doubt thinking that it’s pointless to worry about because we’ve been broadcasting our radio and television signals out into space for a century, right? Well… yes. But those were broadcast primarily along the surface of the Earth by low power transmitters in broad waves which dissipate quickly. The waves that “leak out” of the atmosphere are diffuse and grow more so by the second. Just detecting and capturing a rerun of I Love Lucy from the orbit of Pluto and reassembling it without knowing the precise frequency and type of signal you were looking for would be a massive challenge. How much of that signal would be left 12 light years away, competing with all the static from the Sun and the other stars is an open question.
But METI is taking a far more direct root. They banged out a focused beam from a multi-megawatt transmitter aimed right at the target star. The odds of reception could be considerably higher, assuming there’s anyone there, they’re actually listening and would recognize our efforts at communication as “intelligence.” Still, it’s a disquieting thought.
But the question of permission doesn’t seem to come into it. Could anyone have stopped METI even if we’d known about it? I don’t think anyone really regulates such activity except perhaps the host country in terms of their regulation of communications bands. (This was in Norway and they apparently didn’t complain about it.) In any event, it’s too late now. I doubt I’ll be around if an answer comes back in a quarter of a century, but you younger folks might want to stock up on welcome banners just in case.
Oh, and start looking for Sarah Connor right now. Her experience at fighting Terminators would almost have to come in handy.