Astronomers Will Send a Message to a Potential Alien Civilization, but Should They?

Are we alone in the universe? METI astronomers don't want to wait to find out.
astronomers astronomer signal

Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) are a group of astronomers who have lost patience with humans waiting to find out if we are alone in the universe. 

METI has access to powerful transmitters such as the one in the Norwegian city of Tromso, and another one in Cornwall, UK, at Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station. 

Goonhilly antenna GHY 3
Goonhilly antenna by JTN under CC BY-SA 4.0

 METI is proactively sending messages into Space, hoping that aliens will find the messages and respond.


Reckless radio hams or pioneers of science?

How do you feel about a group of radio astronomers potentially risking the fate of humanity by trying to contact aliens that may exist in the TRAPPIST-1 star system and exoplanet K2-18b?

PIA22097 TRAPPIST 1 Planets 20180205
TRAPPIST-1-Planets by NASA/JPL-Caltech

The TRAPPIST-1 star system is approximately 39 light-years from Earth. It has seven planets, three are in the potentially habitable Goldilock’s zone which could potentially support water and life. 

Are METI wasting time and resources?  Firstly, METI may not be targeting their efforts at the most likely planets to support life.  If you read the views of astronomer Laura Kreidberg, exoplanet K2-18b shouldn’t even be considered potentially habitable, well, at least not human life.   Secondly, is there very little to gain from such an exercise? John Gertz thinks that there is very little to gain and a lot more to risk by trying to initiate contact with alien civilizations.


Does astronomers from METI represent what the rest of us would communicate to aliens?

If you were an astronomer and could send a message into space on the off chance that an alien might read it or listen to it, what would you want to share with alien civilizations?

METI’s latest press release says they will send other music clips to go with two fifteen-second music clips by Russian composer Eduard Artemyev, one called  “Beauty of the Earth,” the other called  “Through the Asteroid Belt.”  When there are so many musical greats to choose from, well-known artists such as Bonjovi and Beethoven, how did they arrive at the decision to send Eduard Artemyev’s music? 

Eduard Artemyev is quite popular in Russia; in 1999, he was awarded People’s Artist of Russia. Choosing the right music and communication is very subjective, so METI has implemented a jury to help them set the criteria and choose.


Can communications with aliens draw a hostile reaction?

Astronomer John Gertz of SETI Institute considers what METI are doing is recklessly endangering all humanity.  

Pictorial Message to potential extraterrestrial intelligence by Pablo Carlos Budassi under CC BY-SA 4.0

Maybe there is no easier way to pick a fight with an alien civilization than bombard the alien radio frequencies with music or highlight the dangers of climate change and lessons in geometry.  This is what META astronomers have been doing since 2017.  Maybe you should listen to the music clips they are sending, and you decide if it is dangerous to be transmitting these to aliens.

Who should decide what messages astronomers should broadcast into space?  Should the content of messages be vetted by a special jury such as the one META has established to vet their own messages?  As what is transmitted into space has the potential to have repercussions on the whole of humanity, is it right that it is done by a self-regulated organization?  Should the question of what is transmitted into space be considered in a broader debate forming international law?


A broader debate about contacting aliens is needed under international law

Should attempt to contact alien civilizations be prohibited or restricted under international law, as suggested by John Gertz. He fears that the age of many other galaxies is millions of years older than ours, which would mean that potential contact with aliens would potentially draw upon us alien armies needing to colonize habitable planets with technologies developed that are far superior to ours.

Stephen Hawkings warned in 2010 that advanced aliens could be nomads that colonize and conquer whatever planets they are able to reach and exploit for resources to build spaceships.  Who knows what pandora’s box METI is opening? Are we poking the extra-terrestrial bear?

Suppose any points of this story resonate with you, and you think there should be stricter regulation around communicating with aliens. In that case, you should reach out to your local politicians and congress members and let them know, that is the way that Space priorities get set. This is how Planetary Society members and others achieved congressional support for NASA’s CLIPPER mission to survey Europa by petitioning politicians with their views of what are the priorities for space.


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