Message in a starry bottle

  • Andrew Griffin

    January 4, 2017 | 02:35 AM

A major programme to try and speak to aliens has been launched — despite warnings that it could lead to the destruction of humanity.

Meti stands for Messaging Extra-terrestrial Intelligence and is a new project that will look to send out signals into space so that extra-terrestrials can pick them up. It will start doing that from 2018 — allowing humanity to get in touch with aliens, rather than waiting for them to talk to us.

But scientists have long warned that sending out such messages could be dangerous, and that alerting aliens to our existence might lead to our complete destruction. That has included Stephen Hawking, who has warned that sending out signals could put us in danger.

Earlier this year he said that we should be “wary” of responding to any messages from aliens. Doing so would probably be like when the Native Americans first met Christo-pher Columbus, he said in Septe-mber, and in that case things “didn’t turn out so well” for the people being visited.

And Professor Hawking has suggested that any civilisation we did make contact with is likely to see us as no more developed than bact-eria. As a consequence it might not actively look to kill us — but wipe us out just because it doesn’t care about us.

There are no regulations gover-ning whether or not messages can be sent out into space, or what those messages should say. That means that Meti and other groups can send out their signals despite any objections.

But those behind Meti say that it will instead be used as a way to “learn and share information”, if it is successful. The team will now look to work out how best to do that, and put together a message that could be understood by other living things in the distant universe that we might be able to make contact with. The initial message is likely to use basic mathematical and scientific concepts.

The group hopes to raise $1 million to start that work. Some of that money will go towards building or borrowing a powerful transmitter that can send a message out into the universe.

Scientists have tried in the past to send out messages into space. Those have included Nasa’s pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft that carried messages written onto plaques and a record, as well as radio messages that have been sent out into the universe. It isn’t clear whether any of those have ever been received.

Some have suggested that we might have received similar mes-sages ourselves, but most scientists believe that we have so far failed to hear or talk to any alien life.

The Independent

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