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Advancing on the older SETI style research among astronomers – searching for extraterrestrial life – now, more scientists are using METI – messaging extraterrestrial intelligence. SETI has been used for around a century, having been utilised in during the early 1900s with the advent of radio, the most famous example of its work being through the Arecibo Telescope in 1974, which sadly collapsed yesterday evening. The issue with SETI is that researchers are forced to sit and wait for a response from alien civilisations.
METI, however, allows for direct action to be taken in order to boost the instance of contact with other-worldly beings.
It has given hope to scientists like astrobiologist Dr Douglas Vakoch, President of METI, that repeated powerful and intentional messages being sent to nearby stars will one day prove lucrative and force a response.
Dr Vakoch is confident such a reaction will be made, as he is almost certain that alien civilisations know we exist.
He explained to the BBC’s Science Focus Magazine that the aliens “we’re worried about already know we’re here”.
Dr Vakoch said: “So if we project our own level of radio technology forwards 200 or 300 years, we’ll have the ability to detect the BBC as it’s streaming out at the speed of light, out to a distance of about 500 light-years.
“Now, we don’t currently have the ability to detect the twin of Earth giving off our level of natural radiation or leakage radiation, TV and radio.
“But that’s okay – we also don’t have warp drive, we don’t have a way of getting to another star.
“So we’re not a threat, but just a tiny bit more advanced than we are, and they already know we’re here.”
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And while there are serious, tangible threats on Earth today – nuclear war, global warming, Dr Vakoch said it’s impossible to say whether we are creating yet another threat for ourselves in sending out messages, however this is considerably less likely than current existential threats.
He explained: “I wish I could tell you that we would be safer if we didn’t send out intentional messages in good conscience – I can’t though.
“Because if there’s anyone out there, then they know we’re here.
“And, even before the radio signals, they’ve had two billion years to know that there’s complex life on our planet by the changes in our atmosphere.”
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If true, then the whole point of sending messages into outer space is thrown into question – is there any point at all if they already know we exist?
Dr Vakoch said the purpose of METI is not to let the aliens know we’re here for the first time, as this probably “isn’t going to be news to them”.
Instead, he said: “It is examining a question that the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi asked back in 1950 – if they’re out there, where are they? It’s been called the Fermi paradox.
Something that motivates METI researchers is an answer to the paradox called the “zoo hypothesis”.
Dr Vakoch explained: “So imagine you got to London Zoo and we’re checking out a bunch of zebras.
“We’re looking at them, we’re just getting ready to move on, but all of a sudden, one of them turns directly towards us, looks us in the eye, starts pounding out a series of prime numbers with its hoof.
“I don’t know about you, maybe you’re going to go and check out the wildebeest, but I’m going to stay with the zebra and engage it.
“And so it would establish a radically different relationship.
“We knew there were zebras before – they just weren’t especially interesting, or at least there was no indication that they were trying to reach out to us.”
That is ultimately what METI researchers are attempting to do in sending messages to outer space.
Dr Vakoch and his team are reaching out to distant civilisations and saying that they are not only here, on Earth, which the aliens know, but that they want to make contact.
He went on to say that there is a “good chance” at contact so long as “we’re patient”.
You can subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine here.
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