Proponents of making contact with advanced ET life forms have come up with a new way to attract their attention—mounting mirrors on the Moon and using them to signal across space. It’s sort of like a bigger version of Batman’s bat-signal to shout out, “Hello aliens! We’re here! Come on over!”
Since radio broadcasts haven’t had much luck drumming up a clear response, it’s time to step it up to improve our chances of being found reasons Shawn Domagal-Goldman and Jacob Haqq-Misra of Pennsylvania State University. They say the mirrors could be angled to catch the Sun's rays, which would increase the amount of light the Earth-moon system reflects by 20%. That could be more than enough to attract the attention of an astute alien astronomer. Domagal-Goldman proposes stealing ideas straight out of Carl Sagan's book Contact, where a code of prime number flashes let aliens know the signal is intentional and not just natural variations in brightness.
Also, for those who think mounting mirrors on the Moon as an intergalactic greeting card isn’t worth the investment, they’ve come up with a win-win solution for the dreamers and the pragmaticists. The underside of the mirrors could be covered with photovoltaic cells. When the mirrors aren't busy signally they could be reversed to allow the cells to generate electricity, which would be then be beamed via microwaves back to Earth.
"You could help solve the climate crisis, too," says Domagal-Goldman, who presented his idea last week at the 2008 Astrobiology Science Conference in Santa Clara, California.
It sounds good, but there is a surprising amount of controversy over the topic of whether or not we should be actively trying to contact ET life forms. Feelings run deep and rampant on the subject ranging from “alien contact would be the best thing to ever happen to planet Earth” to a very serious “hell no, the aliens will eat us!”
US. New Scientist Space commenter Steve Tuck raises an interesting (if not severely pessimistic) point seemingly straight out of a sci-fi horror flick, that far from wanting to help us out, advanced alien races might be more likely to want to snack on us.
“Any alien civilization able to reach us, is likely to regard our planet as "living space" and the fauna (including ourselves) as a source of food,” he writes. “Just look at how European settlers of the USA, Australia etc. behaved. This was 'natural' behaviour, i.e. Genes maximizing their effectiveness and capture of resources in the new environment, to the detriment of what was already there. Any alien race will have been subject to similar evolutionary pressures on its home planet and will have therefore acquired similar resource-acquisition behaviour. Maybe they will study us, as we study interesting new species in rainforests. But we still cut rainforests down.”
Then, of course, there’s the popular counter argument that any species evolved enough for space travel is likely less violent and barbaric than us. It’s also likely that there’s nothing so special on Earth that they couldn’t find or create it elsewhere in the universe. From a common sense perspective, it just doesn’t seem like planets like ours that spend the majority of their resources stockpiling weapons to blow each other up are intelligent and evolved enough to conquer interstellar space travel. Surely species that have advanced capabilities have evolved past the point of constantly teetering on the edge of self-destruction. That could mean that they are less bloodthirsty than we imagine them to be, based on our own bloodthirsty natures.
Commenter Mick Malkemus puts it this way, “Most space fairing
civilizations are peaceful. Proof? Any technological civilization that
doesn't learn to live together in peace, will either blow themselves
up, or be blown away by a killer asteroid while they are fighting
amongst themselves. They are probably here already anyway, just making
sure we don't make it into orbit around their planet unannounced. Would
you want to wake up one day, and find humans on your planet? I don't
think so. We should stop projecting our own worst qualities on other
intelligence space fairing civilizations, it is an insult.”
Steve and Mick reflect two polarized views, both of which are shared by millions of others in some form or another. But from a cost versus benefit ratio analysis, are the benefits of contact with an advanced species worth the risk that they might want to snack on us, or cause some other nefarious harm?
John Billingham, senior scientist at the private SETI Institute in Mountain View, California cautions that we ought to be very careful of intentionally giving away our location and haphazardly sending random messages. He notes, "We're talking about initiating communication with other civilizations, but we know nothing of their goals, capabilities, or intent."
Alexander Zaitsev, Chief Scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics is less worried. He has already been broadcasting messages to the potential transient life forms that may exist within the Milky Way. Zaitsev has access to one of the most powerful radio transmitters on Earth, which is officially used to conduct the Institute's planetary radar studies, but he uses it to double as a galactic “loudspeaker”.
For those who believe that the chance other forms of sentient life in the universe are too small to be significant, the debate is a moot point. However Zaitsev believes extraterrestrial intelligence likely does exists, and that we as a species are morally obligated to announce our presence to our sentient neighbors.
After all, if all sentient life forms in the galaxy are only listening just as we are, he reasons, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is already doomed to failure. In other words, someone has to make the first move and since our species specializes in acting first and then worrying about the consequences later, it may as well be us.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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