Alien life search: What will actually happen when NASA makes contact?


Believers say the discovery of alien life will one day be remembered as the most incredible event in history. However Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researchers have warned that a post-detection policy needs to be put in place. There are fears the precarious media landscape could mean NASA’s alien contact announcement will either be lost in the noise or taken as fake news.

SETI will be canvassing public perception of alien contact at next month’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

SETI will conduct the largest-ever public survey of their sentiment towards aliens.

Questions will include public thoughts on alien contact, whether or not we should respond, what the resulting course of action should be, and which sources of news they would trust.

Dr Martin Dominik, the SET project’s lead said: “After receiving an initial transmission, weeks, months, or even many years could pass before a substantial message is decoded.

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“A lot can happen in this time. Traditionally, unfolding news could be managed to some degree, but now we have social media and fake news—persuasive forces that can drive decisions, and this is something we have to consider.”

The SETI researchers will be joined by colleagues from the Berkeley University, who are involved in the Breakthrough Listen project, which has just publicly released their first set of data.

Dr John Elliott, STI’s co-exhibitor added: “As we analyse these signals, initial findings on the structure may be rapid, but as we look deeper into the structure and possible meaning, there are likely to be periods of silence, while these complex tasks are performed.

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“These periods could present an information vacuum—a delay between the analysts and the public.

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“In such an atmosphere, fear and speculation could thrive, so we need to ensure such unnecessary conjecture is minimised by ensuring the public is informed and on the same page.”

Dr Dominik continued: “We simply do not know whether there is any intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, and how common it is.

“We may never receive a radio signal from extra-terrestrial intelligence, but what if we do?

“Should we reply? Should we proactively seek contact, or rather keep a low profile?”

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The basic premise of SETI is that we live in a galaxy full of intelligent life.

This rests on the theory there must be many habitats in the Milky Way where complex biology has had a chance to evolve and thrive.

There are approximately a trillion planets in the Milky Way alone.

It consequently seems realistic to expect at least some fraction of these worlds are home to intelligent alien life.

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