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Should We Try to Contact Aliens?

Stephen Hawking recently argued that it's too risky and that extra-terrestrial civilizations would most likely be far more advanced. (Image:  ESO/M. Kornmesser  via   Wikipedia /  CC BY 4.0)
Stephen Hawking recently argued that it's too risky and that extra-terrestrial civilizations would most likely be far more advanced. (Image: ESO/M. Kornmesser via Wikipedia / CC BY 4.0)

The skies have been scanned for decades looking for any alien messages. While there have been a few exciting moments, they have all ended in failure. Now, scientists from a new San Francisco-based organization called METI, or Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, believe we have gone about this all the wrong way.

Rather than waiting for Extra Terrestrials to call us, the scientists are planning to send signals to distant planets in an effort to make contact. This will be the first time we have sent powerful, repeated, and intentional messages into space directed at the same stars over an extended period of time.

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye.

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbor: Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. (Image: ESA/Hubble via Wikipedia / CC BY 3.0)

The team will either build or buy a powerful deep-space transmitter, and then aims to send laser or radio signals by the end of 2018. The lucky planet to receive this message is a rocky planet called Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri, the closest Earth-like exoplanet to our Solar System at around 4.25 light-years away.

They are also looking at more distant destinations that could be hundreds to thousands of light years away. All they need to do is figure out what the message should be.

Douglas Vakoch, president of METI, told The Mercury News:

Not the first time

This is not the first time scientists have made plans similar to this. Project Cyclops was a former NASA mission and was backed by the space agency. However, it was shelved due to a lack of funding in the 1970s. It proposed using a network of radio telescopes here on Earth reaching out as far as 1,000 light-years into space; METI has similar plans.

METI, which is a non-profit organization, is planning to conduct two workshops next year — one in Paris and the other in St. Louis. There are also plans to have a crowdfunding drive to help make the idea become a reality. It has been estimated that they’ll need to raise around US$1 million a year just to keep the transmitter running.

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea

Stephen Hawking recently argued that it’s too risky, and that extra-terrestrial civilizations would most likely be far more advanced than we are. He even went so far as saying a distant alien civilization may view us as inferior, weak, and perfect to conquer:

Physicist Mark Buchanan, in a recent paper in Nature Physics, argued that we might be “searching for trouble” if we start flinging messages out into space, writing:

Despite opposition

Even with opposition, experts from METI are convinced the benefits of reaching out into space and learning more outweigh the risks. Vakoch wrote a piece in Nature Physics titled In defence of METI:

The researchers also want to reassess the Drake equation, which was written in 1961 by astrophysicist Frank Drake. It is an equation that calculates how many civilizations there could be in the Universe, which is based on factors like star formation rates and the ratio of planets to stars.

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