Since the creation of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program, many scientists have pondered the following question: what will happen if we detect a signal coming from an extraterrestrial intelligence?
Special protocols have been developed for this purpose, but the question of the exact impact of this discovery on people remains open.
In 2020, an article by Ken Wisian and John Traphagan suggested there was a risk of finding extraterrestrial life that had not been sufficiently explored before.
Wisian and Traphagan argued that the danger of detection does not come from the extraterrestrials themselves, but from the fact that the advantage of access to this message can cause terrestrial problems, such as espionage, the escalation of conflicts between states, and may even lead to all-out war.
The study aimed to model what politicians can do in this case. As seen in some sci-fi movies, it is assumed that the military will quickly take control of contact with aliens.
A new study by Jason Wright, Chelsea Haramia and Gabriel Sweeney argues that this approach is flawed. They claim that detecting a signal from space will be very difficult to keep secret.
SETI Institute Principal Astronomer Seth Szostak, who was not involved in this study, believes that many of the protocols and scenarios they’ve worked on don’t really take into account the importance of publicity. such a discovery.
Mr. Szostak believes that when extraterrestrials are discovered, the media immediately starts spreading this information. In general, within a few hours, the whole world will know about this event.
For example, in 1997, when a signal was detected from outside the Earth’s atmosphere that appeared to be extraterrestrial, it took only 15 hours for the New York Times to discover it and call the institute. The signal turned out to be regular telemetry from the SOHO spacecraft, but the media had already covered it extensively. No major conflicts or military escalations were discovered either.
Wisian and John Traphagan believe that radio telescopes and searchers for extraterrestrial life should increase their security in the event of detection. Many scientists are concerned about this proposal, because given the number of people who believe that the government and the military are currently hiding aliens, such an approach is likely to lead to the negative scenario above.
On the other hand, Wright, Haramia and Sweeney believe that transparency and openness by researchers in the search for intelligent civilizations in space is the key to dealing with possible risks that may arise in the global arena. Governments and the public should generally be made aware of possible scenarios.
Mr Shostak believes that the most important thing people and politicians should pay attention to is that the detected signal does not represent a potential danger.
The nearest star is almost 4 light years away. This distance is too great for a modern spacecraft. If an alien civilization with evil intentions is able to quickly bridge this distance, then why should it send a signal in advance?
Should we respond to an extraterrestrial signal?
In 2010, the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) released a statement of principles regarding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
It stipulates that after a conclusive discovery, there should be no response without international consultation.
However, Shostak thinks the concerns over a response are highly questionable. Our television broadcasts and airport radars have been sending signals into space for decades. Aliens can simply send a message, thus confirming that they have heard us.
Wright, Haramia and Sweeney’s study has been accepted for publication in Space Policy and is available on arXiv.