SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence has been sending out messages for the past 50 years, and in celebration of this landmark, are offering a chance for the public to express their salutations to any potential race that may be intercepting SETI’s communications in other star systems.
As the digital age came, Earth’s signals became weaker, as stronger radio and television signals broadcast through enormous towers that would beam information in a wave that could eventually be picked up across vast distances. As the technology got better, the signals eventually became (and will become soon) weaker, as digital video and audio became more efficient as far as power was concerned. With weaker signals comes the fear that any “listening posts” set up to intercept Earth’s transmissions then, will be unable to easily interpret or receive the steady stream of digital pulses that will eventually replace the means used the previous decade.
After Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft were sent out in the stars with the hopes that they would be intercepted by alien visitors, but unfortunately Voyager will take nearly 40,000 years for it to reach the nearest planetary system. And the long wait only began a few years ago in 1977 when the probe was first launched. With the interest in extra-terrestrial life forms at an all time high, it’s hardly time to call it quits on the exploration of our own space, and potential signals that may be coming through from other planets or at least other sources.
What message would you send out to an alien species completely unaware of human existence? Assuming they could pick up a message without worrying about the problem of external forces interrupting it, and they could decode it into a language comparable to their own, any of the 5,000 custom messages sent out by SETI could be the first contact made between the two races.
In considering what the average person would say to an alien race, students at a local University in Illinois were questioned about what they would say. Answers ranged from a simple, “We welcome you to Earth,” to one individual, apparently suspicious of the species he would be attempting to contact who said, “Stay away. We don’t need you coming here.” There were other responses, many of which had varying degrees of insightfulness. One economically minded individual suggested the first message sent out to another race be a business proposal, to motivate them to track down the sender and take them up on the offer, “Your technology may or may not be more advanced, but we have developed quickly in recent years and our way of thinking may be vastly different from yours. Therefore we could help one another in future endeavors.”
Hopefully the receiver of these messages would consider it to be merely a form of greeting and not make any long-term judgments on the entire species based on a mistranslation or an unfortunate cultural faux pas. Unfortunately, this seems to be one of the themes certainly in Earth history, where if diplomacy is not arranged and thought out carefully it can have disastrous results. We can only hope it is a purely human trait.