Scientists Are Blasting Out Earth’s Location With the Hope of Reaching Aliens – Stephen Hawking Warned They Might Destroy Humanity

Extraterrestrial Intelligence Alien Spaceship UFO

Blasting out Earth’s location with the hope of reaching aliens is a controversial idea – two teams of scientists are doing it anyway.

If a person is lost in the wilderness, they have two options. They can search for civilization, or they could make themselves easy to spot by building a fire or writing HELP in big letters. For scientists interested in the question of whether intelligent aliens exist, the options are much the same.

For over 70 years, astronomers have been scanning for radio or optical signals from other civilizations in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, called SETI. Most scientists are confident that life exists on many of the 300 million potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers also think there is a decent chance some life forms have developed intelligence and technology. But no signals from another civilization have ever been detected, a mystery that is called “The Great Silence.”

While SETI has long been a part of mainstream science, METI, or messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, has been less common.

Milky Way Galaxy Panorama

Scientists think there are 300 million habitable planets in the Milky Way, and some may be home to intelligent life. Credit:
Bruno Gilli/ ESO

I’m a professor of astronomy who has written extensively about the search for life in the universe. I also serve on the advisory council for a nonprofit research organization that’s designing messages to send to extraterrestrial civilizations.

In the coming months, two teams of astronomers are going to send messages into space in an attempt to communicate with any intelligent aliens who may be out there listening.

These efforts are like building a big bonfire in the woods and hoping someone finds you. But some people question whether it is wise to do this at all.

Pioneer 10 Spacecraft Message

The Pioneer 10 spacecraft carries this plaque, which describes some basic information about humans and the Earth. Credit: Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, Linda Salzman Sagan, NASA Ames Research Center

The history of METI

Early attempts to contact life off Earth were quixotic messages in a bottle.

In 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 spacecraft toward Jupiter carrying a plaque with a line drawing of a man and a woman and symbols to show where the craft originated. In 1977, NASA followed this up with the famous Golden Record attached to the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

These spacecraft – as well as their twins, Pioneer 11 and Voyager 2 – have now all traveled well past the orbits of the outer planets. But in the immensity of space, the odds that these or any other physical objects will be found are fantastically minuscule.

Electromagnetic radiation is a much more effective beacon.

Astronomers beamed the first radio message designed for alien ears from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974. The series of 1s and 0s was designed to convey simple information about humanity and biology and was sent toward the globular cluster M13. Since M13 is 25,000 light-years away, you shouldn’t hold your breath for a reply.

In addition to these purposeful attempts at sending a message to aliens, wayward signals from television and radio broadcasts have been leaking into space for nearly a century. This ever-expanding bubble of earthly babble has already reached millions of stars. But there is a big difference between a focused blast of radio waves from a giant telescope and diffuse leakage – the weak signal from a show like “I Love Lucy” fades below the hum of radiation left over from the Big Bang soon after it leaves the solar system.

FAST Telescope

The new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST) telescope in China is the largest radio telescope ever built and will be used to send a message toward the center of the galaxy.

Sending new messages

Nearly half a century after the Arecibo message, two international teams of astronomers are planning new attempts at alien communication. One is using a giant new radio telescope, and the other is choosing a compelling new target.

One of these new messages will be sent from the world’s largest radio telescope, in China, sometime in 2023. The telescope, with a 1,640-foot (500-meter) diameter, will beam a series of radio pulses over a broad swath of sky. These on-off pulses are like the 1s and 0s of digital information.

The message is called “The Beacon in the Galaxy” and includes prime numbers and mathematical operators, the biochemistry of life, human forms, the Earth’s location and a time stamp. The team is sending the message toward a group of millions of stars near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, about 10,000 to 20,000 light-years from Earth. While this maximizes the pool of potential aliens, it means it will be tens of thousands of years before Earth may get a reply.

The other attempt is targeting only a single star, but with the potential for a much quicker reply. On October 4, 2022, a team from the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in England will beam a message toward the star TRAPPIST-1. This star has seven planets, three of which are Earth-like worlds in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” – meaning they could be home to liquid and potentially life, too. TRAPPIST-1 is just 39 light-years away, so it could take as few as 78 years for intelligent life to receive the message and Earth to get the reply.

Center of Milky Way Galaxy

The center of the Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life, but some researchers think contacting aliens is a bad idea. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI

Ethical questions

The prospect of alien contact is ripe with ethical questions, and METI is no exception.

The first is: Who speaks for Earth? In the absence of any international consultation with the public, decisions about what message to send and where to send it are in the hands of a small group of interested scientists.

But there is also a much deeper question. If you are lost in the woods, getting found is obviously a good thing. When it comes to whether humanity should be broadcasting a message to aliens, the answer is much less clear-cut.

Before he died, iconic physicist Stephen Hawking was outspoken about the danger of contacting aliens with superior technology. He argued that they could be malign and if given Earth’s location, might destroy humanity. Others see no extra risk, since a truly advanced civilization would already know of our existence. And there is interest. Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner has offered $1 million for the best design of a new message and an effective way to transmit it.

To date, no international regulations govern METI, so the experiments will continue, despite concerns.

For now, intelligent aliens remain in the realm of science fiction. Books like “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu offer somber and thought-provoking perspectives on what the success of METI efforts might look like. It doesn’t end well for humanity in the books. If humans ever do make contact in real life, I hope the aliens come in peace.

Written by Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona.

This article was first published in The Conversation.The Conversation

11 Comments on "Scientists Are Blasting Out Earth’s Location With the Hope of Reaching Aliens – Stephen Hawking Warned They Might Destroy Humanity"

  1. Pure BS! .the nearest star is requires 2.2 for a any single photon to arrive at that star.Even if was detected(reflected) and immediately returned the round trip time back to earth – by definition is 4.4 years!!
    Obviously round trip time to most object in the universe are in the order of magnitude hundreds or thousands of years,but radio transmission invented in the 1920-or about 300 years ago ! `SETI is non scientific BS .cancel my enrollment /subscription

  2. david w. ferrin | April 30, 2022 at 10:35 pm | Reply

    I see this and just laugh. so, why would I an intelligent alien from somewhere in space come to this penal colony, it filled with people that turn a chat box in to psycho killer in three weeks, or they beat in pieces a robot traveling around saying HI, most HU-mans on this planet have this way of treating different ” I don’t know what it is, lets throw a rock at it “…

  3. Only a fragile, suspicious and paranoid ego sees aliens as malevolent. Assuming a superior technology and culture, they would also be superior emotionally and psychologically.
    Time to grow up and leave Toyland, children and join the bigger picture. Oh yeah, leave your egos at the door, m’kay?

    • What a bizarre comment based on no evidence whatsoever. On the contrary, there is a long history on earth of advanced civilisations using technology to destroy and subjugate those less advanced. Superior technology does not equate to superior ethics, far from it.

      • Good day, David!
        We have been comparing “aliens” to ourselves. This is our first error. Then we believe they think as we do, our second error.
        The phrase “I do not know” is the greatest possibility anyone can have, as it means they have put aside all their preconceptions and are open to any possibilities.

  4. david w. ferrin | May 1, 2022 at 12:07 am | Reply

    So, I think that We are LOOKing in the wrong place using the wrong reason to LOOK. the Stars near HIP 114112, its a G2V, it a little brighter, BUT, it has what I call sister stars(i.e. closer than 4.4 ly). So, if I were an Superior alien race I would want/need other closer to me, so that I can expand. Right, if I am on an island on the ocean, what would make me leave to go some place else ???

  5. Earth has been emitting signals of an intelligible type for more than a century. The American Marconi Company was organized 1899. Spark Gap transmitters operated on the make-break method creating a very broad band signal of how leaked that leaked from Earth is unknown but it was over a band not possible now. So the exists a radio sigal sphere of some uncertain quality about the solar system which means if it worries you that it long past!

  6. … According to our understanding of physics it would be very difficult for aliens to come in here in the large numbers. However, if our understanding of physics is not complete then some stuff could be interesting to an alien civilization, but that might vary according to their level of development.
    If we consider low level of difference, the interest in humans might be like a zoo thing and sampling and cultural phenomenons. Something like C. Darwin did some time ago. But our governments might be interested in technology those type of civilizations might have(possible trade).
    Then there would be a level of civilization in which they would have some interest, but we would be more like a not interested thing. The level of that civilization would be unthinkable for us, and the level of development would be impossible to imagine. Then there could even be some stuff that enable them to observe us without even be able to notice that one is observed.
    Then there could be a very developed ones, they would see no interest in us after all.

    … But there is no evidence aliens do exist, still. We might ask our self’s what would they gain with it…

  7. Ben Oldfield | May 1, 2022 at 10:54 am | Reply

    The chances of an alien contact depends upon many factors. The critical one is the length of time a technical civilisation lasts. In our case it looks as though that the human rases civilisation (being able to emit and receive radio signals) will not last very muck longer. I predict we will wipe out our civilisation because of global warming. That means that the life of a technical civilisation is around 250 years. Any two in the our galaxy will not overlap.

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