SETI scientists say it's time to send messages to ET

This is the "South Pillar" region of the star-forming region called the Carina Nebula. Like cracking open a watermelon and finding its seeds, the infrared telescope "busted open" this murky cloud to reveal star embryos tucked inside finger-like pillars of thick dust. Credit: NASA

Scientists want to contact extraterrestrial civilizations. Some applause the effort. Others say this is not a good plan at all. The idea is for messages encoded in radio signals to be sent repeatedly for hundreds of years to planets in habitable zones around stars, said a report in The Guardian. Repeated signals would be beamed at nearby planets that were chosen for their odds of harboring life. The scientists are from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute in California.

The BBC said that SETI's researchers have been listening for signals from outer space for more than 30 years using radio telescope facilities. So far there has been no sign. Writing in ScienceInsider, Eric Hand said, "Since the SETI movement began in the 1960s, it has mostly involved using radio telescopes to listen to bands in the electromagnetic spectrum for something out of the ordinary." Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, believes that it is time to step up the search from listening to broadcasting. "Some of us at the institute are interested in 'active Seti', not just listening but broadcasting something to some nearby stars because maybe there is some chance that if you wake somebody up you'll get a response," he told BBC News. He proposed beaming the entire contents of the Internet, said The Guardian. Shostak communicated his views at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose on Thursday. Hand said scientists in both camps, for and against beaming, participated in the Thursday debate.

Among those against the idea in the past has been scientist Stephen Hawking. In 2010, The Guardian reported that Hawking believed we would be well-advised "to keep the volume down on our intergalactic chatter," according to Leo Hickman. Should earthlings draw attention to ourselves? Should we be yelling into space? Are we looking at a risk of aggression and even annihilation? The Guardian said Hawking had warned that "an encounter with more advanced ETs could go badly for humans." Ian Sample, science editor, The Guardian, said others agree. "Simon Conway Morris, an evolutionary paleobiologist at Cambridge, has urged governments to prepare for the worst because aliens might be as violent and greedy as humans – or worse." Shostak and others, meanwhile, posed their views in favor of beaming messages. According to The Guardian, Douglas Vakoch, SETI Institute director of interstellar message composition, said, "We have already yelled 'Yoo Hoo!' We now want to follow up with something with a little more substance."

The BBC said the current plan was for leading astronomers, anthropologists and social scientists to gather at SETI after the AAAS meeting for a symposium. The Institute on the SETI website stated they recognize the need for further discussions. They said that "the topic of active transmissions towards potential extraterrestrial technological civilizations is not just a scientific matter, but also one with policy, diplomatic, regulatory, and cultural ramifications. It is a topic about which people have strong views, and a topic that needs to be discussed broadly."

David Brin, a scientist and science fiction writer spoke at the AAAS meeting. "Historians will tell you that first contact between industrial civilizations and indigenous people does not go well," Brin told Pallab Ghosh, science correspondent, BBC News.

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Feb 14, 2015
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Feb 14, 2015
Most of the scientists on the project would be dead before any return signal would be expected, as the closest planet is 22 light years away, so a minimum of 44 years round trip.

What you need is one of them time-reversed quantum entangled experiments on each planet, and you send an message to the other planet, they get the message before it is sent, and then send it back, and you get the return message before it was sent.

Yeah, riiiiight....someday kaptain kirk will have it.

Feb 14, 2015
My take on it is the only possible contact would be with an advanced species willing to bother wasting their time with us. A species below our level would be a curiosity to us and in our vicinity like mars. A species on our level might be a threat but they would be no more able to reach us than us them. Even a phone call unlikely do to vast distances. A hugely advanced civilization would need not deal with us no more than a psychotic man stomping on an ant hill. Why bother? Anything they might need or want is abundant in the universe and easily attained robotically. If we are an experiment set up by some highly evolved creature they may want to check up on our status now and then quietly in the background so as not to pollute the project. Maybe some day they'll let us in on the joke. And then there's the outside chance that some capable critter sees our struggle and identifies with us enough to intervene and help. Give us a little leg up. In the end there may be too many limitations.

Feb 14, 2015
E.T. Phone Home...

Feb 14, 2015
Who elected these SETI scientists ambassadors to the universe?

Feb 15, 2015
Yes Zogg, obviously primitives occupying a planet around that star. Best to ignore them. . . .

Feb 15, 2015
It won't hurt anyone but it's foolish in the extreme to think there's any point in this. If there was actually intelligent life within a few hundred light years of Earth then life would be so common that the Galaxy would be filled with thousands of advanced civilisations many of which would be more advanced than us, and not only that but it would indicate that primitive life would be even more common, common enough that we'd have surely detected some molecular microfossil evidence from Mars' earlier days.

But wait, there's more, the proposed intelligent life would take a further few hundred years to send a signal back and what would it say... "hey guys we hear you and we're coming over, don't blow yourselves to bits in a nuclear or biological disaster during the tens of thousands of years it'll take us to get there.

Feb 16, 2015
I think the signal back will say "The user "EARTH" has been blocked due to inappropriate content broadcast in the 1930's. Account suspended for 1 million years"

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