Scientists at METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) are a year or two away from sending a signal out into space for alien life to discover. They aim to fire it off by the end of 2018, and the basic gist will be something like “hello” and “please talk to us.”
They’re pointing this signal at Proxima b, pictured by an artist concept above. This planet orbits Proxima Centauri, and it’s the closest Earth-like object to our planet.
President of METI Douglas Vakoch is hopeful that this will start a dialogue.
“If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information…”
Don’t expect them to return our call anytime soon
Let’s assume there’s life on Proxima b, which is a stretch in and of itself. Let’s also assume this life is intelligent, which is an even bigger stretch. Let’s assume that they have the means to receive and decipher our message. Again, stretching. Then let’s assume that they’re intelligent enough to send something back our way. Yoga, basically.
If all of that lines up perfectly, we won’t hear from that alien life for a long, long time. Vakock refers to this effort as “an inherently multi-generational project.” Proxima b is 4.25 light years out, so a message traveling at light speed will take more than 8 years to simply go out and come back.
Even if it does, do we want it to? There are lots of critics out there when it comes to making contact with intelligent life. Andrew Fraknoi, head of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College, offers that we’re just babies in this ancient galaxy. Say we do make contact and the civilization out there has billions of years on us. “Babbling babies are not always appreciated during adult conversation, Franknoi says. “Listening and learning is how children become adults, and why not try that for a while?”
Buzzkill? Yes. But he might be right.
Still, the folks at METI hope that taking a proactive approach will show that we’re friendly and advanced enough to learn. It might take a while to get anywhere with that, but here we go.