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.
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:
“If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information.”
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:
“If so, they will be vastly more powerful and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.
“One day we might receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c, but we should be wary of answering back.”
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:
“We have almost zero idea of whether aliens are likely to be dangerous.”
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:
“Perhaps for some civilizations… we need to take the initiative to make first contact.
“The role of scientists is to test hypotheses. Through METI we can empirically test the hypothesis that transmitting an intentional signal will elicit a reply.”
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.