Ancient Code

At any moment, mankind could receive a signal from extraterrestrial life. In the last twenty years, we have detected planets like Earth which orbit around virtually every distant star, but as of yet, we haven’t gotten a clear response. In light of this “Great Silence,” astronomers have speculated that Earth may be a kind of cosmic Eden or a “galactic zoo.” Highly advanced extraterrestrials could be watching from behind a kind of one-way mirror.

“We’ve been mindlessly pacing our Earthly cage while the extraterrestrials maintain their distance and keep watch,” suggested Seth Shostak for NBC.

 

Are aliens watching but operating on the code of conduct from Star Trek, the “prime directive” that forbids the Federation from interfering with alien cultures? Are these cultures so advanced that they are taking the high road, refusing to meddle in our affairs? Or are they waiting for the moment when they detect that life here has finally advanced to the point where we are finally ready to advance to the next level?

For Douglas Vakoch, the president of METI, which stand for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the more we reach out to advanced life in the universe, the more we signal that we are ready. Our culture is no longer dangerous and fearful but open to the idea of starting up a conversation.

Vakoch suggests there is no better time to reach out than right now.

“There’s an old adage that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now. Well, the same goes for interstellar messaging. The best time to transmit is right now,” says Vakoch.

Using a comparison to animals in a zoo: maybe we need to start rattling the bars.

“If a zoo animal suddenly starts barking through the bars, saying ‘I’m here and I think you’re out there,’ those on the other side might respond.”

“Simply put, METI’s deliberate transmissions might lead to a discovery of cosmic company because the broadcasts would tell the aliens that we no longer require their helicopter parenting. We’re adult enough for them to get in touch.”

The belief that our alien “zookeepers” will respond to our communication relies on reaching aliens who have more than just a passing interest in humanity. What if they know we’re here, have seen our messages, but are indifferent, apathetic, and unwilling to respond?

“My great fear in the search for extraterrestrials is extraterrestrials will be like intelligent cats. They know we’re here, but they don’t care,” said Vakoch.

 

Hoping to trigger a response, Vakoch and METI are working diligently to create and deliver messages that might find common ground, even to alien cultures. Some of the universal languages they think might work the best include:

  • Music
  • Math
  • Trigonometry
  • The Fibonacci Sequence
  • Pictures

If the aliens can decipher our message, then they would likely be able to respond in kind.

Of course, it’s not just METI who are reaching out to higher lifeforms in the universe. Right now there is a global competition to deliver a “New Arecibo Message” from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The competition is open to kindergarten students up to undergraduate students.

Staff scientist Alessandra Abe Pacini believes that kids might be better than seasoned astronomers or scientists at seeing the big picture. They might deliver a message that will inspire a response from extraterrestrials.

“Sometimes the scientists are so focused on their topics and they can see stuff very deep but they cannot see very broad,” she said. “Students know a little bit about everything, so they can see the big picture better. For sure they can design a message that is actually much more important.”

The next time you gaze out at the night sky, remember that there are infinite other planets orbiting near stars, just like our own Earth. The likelihood that we not alone in the universe is exponentially high. Likewise, the odds that alien civilizations are far more advanced than ours is almost certain. The fact that these advanced cultures have kept out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist, but that they have don’t believe we are ready.

Let’s face it: When you look at the state of the world today, there is not one among us who could reasonably blame them for keeping their distance.

Yet maybe if they knew how much we needed their help, our alien zookeepers might finally decide to intervene. Or, perhaps we would quickly come to regret our choice to reach out to aliens who are not zookeepers so much as intelligent and aloof alien cats?

 

Watch Douglas Vakoch, President of METI International, talk about his work in communicating with extraterrestrial life below:


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube