Scientists are still in search of the aliens on how to respond to their contact. Members of the UK Researchers (UKSRN) are launching a large survey of public attitudes towards alien contact on.
This gathering will help them to plan for an international program that sets the ground rules on how organizations should share news of any signals or signs that are detected about alien contact.
Still, no procedure enshrined in international law on how to respond to a signal from an alien civilization. An astronomer at the University of St Andrews said. “He wants to hear people’s views. The consequences affect more people than just scientists.”
The search for alien life has largely focused on listening for complex radio signals from outer space with the world’s most powerful telescopes. Last month, astronomers on the Breakthrough Listen project announced they had heard nothing after eavesdropping on more than 1,000 star systems within 160 light years of Earth.
Martin Dominick who is an astronomer points out that with the stars in the Milky Way we can begin the task of scanning the cosmos for life elsewhere. “If there were tens of quintillions of other civilizations distributed in the Milky Way, the Breakthrough Listen project would not have heard a thing,” he said.
A reader in intelligence engineering said also that the global Seti community could announce any signal immediately. But in an era of social media that would spark a flood of fake news and conspiracy theories that leave people utterly confused about the truth, he said.
The problem is that the scientists might quickly realize that an intercepted signal was complex enough to be broadcast from an advanced civilization, it might take weeks or months to understand if it can be deciphered at all. Any signal could easily be electromagnetic noise from equipment or a snippet of a terrestrial broadcast that leaked into space, unintended for such distant ears.
A radio message about life on Earth was sent to a group of stars 25,000 light years away in 1974, from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. Photograph: Alamy
The survey will help scientists work out how best to provide reliable information but also what should be done if it seems only polite to respond to an interstellar missive. The late Stephen Hawking warned that humans would do well not to alert alien civilizations to life on Earth, but other researchers disagree.
Later this year, an organization called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Meti) International plans to beam signals into space containing references to the periodic table of elements. They will not be the first attempts to contact ET. In 1974, scientists at the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico sent a radio message about life on Earth to a group of stars 25,000 light years away. Given how baffling the message will be too many humans in the 21st century, it is unclear what any recipient will infer from it.
“It makes sense to create a legally binding framework that is properly rooted in international law,” Dominick said. “I’m completely comfortable with taking the whole thing above the level of scientists. If there are public consequences of replying and sending out messages that is a political decision and not one to be taken by scientists.”