Are we alone in the universe? That is one of the biggest questions science as a whole seeks to answer. So far, all attempts to find alien life have come back negative, but that hasn’t stopped scientists from looking. However, besides the question of whether we can find alien life on a distant world, there is another question: should we even try?
First off, there are two basic scenarios that could arise from alien contact. One: a catastrophic meeting in which advanced aliens seek to obliterate life on Earth and then mine the planet for resources. Two: a friendly interaction where the aliens can help us, and perhaps, vise versa.
This past weekend, the there was a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) convention that was held to honor the 50th anniversary of astronomer Frank Drake’s first attempt to search for alien civilizations via radio waves. While the big headline with the 50th anniversary, Drake’s 80th birthday, and the state of SETI, the question of whether we should even bother trying to contact aliens arose.
Needless to say, there are some pretty big names in science taking sides.
Stephen Hawking, perhaps the greatest physicist since Einstein, does not look hopefully upon the idea of contacting alien life. In recent years, Hawking has warned that, to survive as a species, we must take to space and that humans should immediately stop trying to contact aliens. Hawking’s reasoning: we humans have not been a space-faring species for even 50 years and, chances are, that an alien species capable of space travel would be far ahead of us in terms of technology. With high technology comes the potential for devastating weapons for which humans would have no counter for. Hawking also points out to the history of human interaction where, when advanced and primitive cultures meet, the primitive is often conquered or even subjected to genocide. Contrary to what may be expected, former SETI director John Billingham agrees with Hawking in that sending transmissions out into space could be unwise.
On the other side of the coin is a more hopeful argument proposed by Douglas Vakoch and Seth Shostak. Vakoch points out that, at interstellar distances, aliens would have a hard time doing us any harm in the first place. Shostak goes on to explain that, even if aliens considered invading Earth to steal our resources, they would be faced with the enormous logistical problems of transporting their spoils back to their home planet, wherever that may be. Shostak compared this to the scenario of “ordering a book from Amazon and then paying $60,000 in shipping.”
In the end, the debate over whether to contact aliens is, in the eyes of some, a moot point anyway. Shostak. a proponent of SETI, pointed out that, should we wish to stop sending potential signals to hostile aliens, it would involve ceasing all wireless transmissions on Earth. Why? Every single radio and TV broadcast ever made is flying out into space, in all directions, at the speed of light. So, the first radio transmission made by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895 is now 115 light years away and has passed by a lot of stars already.
However, for people taking a pessimistic stance on alien contact, in light of some of the assorted garbage on TV and radio, any aliens listening may be put-off from coming to check us out, anyway.
For more space news:
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