Daily Archives: April 12th, 2012

NASA and the Alien Contact Scenario

Lately I find it interesting in the mainstream media and science that the possibility of contacting extraterrestrial intelligence is getting more serious and less laughter associated with it.

Personally, I think it’s related to discoveries made by the Kepler space telescope and Keck observatory in Hawaii of hundreds, if not thousands of near-Earth sized planets within a sphere of 300 light-years. This has spurred interest in exoplanetary observation and studies of potential Earth-like atmospheres for changes such as warming, carbon-dioxide build-ups and artificial radiation.

One such project, the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) is the direct result of these discoveries. One of SKA’s missions is to probe potential exo-Earths within 50 light-years for radio transmissions, especially radar emissions because that would be a sure sign of civilization(s) capable of being potential competitor(s) in our local interstellar neighborhood.

So it seems that NASA (that bastion of governmental openess, lol) has an actual alien contact scenario that could be implemented at a moment’s notice.

It also seems to be drawn right out of the film classic ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still:’

Extraterrestrial beings monitoring Earth  might  view changes in our atmosphere as symptomatic of a a self-destructing civilization and take drastic action to keep us from becoming a more serious threat, according to a highly speculative scenario developed last year by scientists at NASA and Penn State University.

Shawn Domagal-Goldman of NASA’s Planetary Science Division and his colleagues developed scenarios that could unfold in the aftermath of a close encounter, to help humanity “prepare for actual contact”.Their report, Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis,divides alien contacts into three broad categories: beneficial, neutral or harmful.Beneficial encounters ranged from the mere detection of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), for example through the interception of alien broadcasts, to contact with cooperative organisms that help us advance our knowledge and solve global problems such as hunger, poverty and disease.

Another beneficial outcome the authors entertain sees humanity triumph over a more powerful alien aggressor, or even being saved by a second group of ETs. “In these scenarios, humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival, but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI technology,” the authors write.

Other kinds of close encounter may be less rewarding and leave much of human society feeling indifferent towards alien life. The extraterrestrials may be too different from us to communicate with usefully. They might invite humanity to join the “Galactic Club” only for the entry requirements to be too bureaucratic and tedious for humans to bother with.

The most unappealing outcomes would arise if extraterrestrials caused harm to humanity, even if by accident. While aliens may arrive to eat, enslave or attack us, the report adds that people might also suffer from being physically crushed or by contracting diseases carried by the visitors. In especially unfortunate incidents, humanity could be wiped out when a more advanced civilisation accidentally unleashes an unfriendly artificial intelligence, or performs a catastrophic physics experiment that renders a portion of the galaxy uninhabitable.

To bolster humanity’s chances of survival, the researchers call for caution in sending signals into space, and in particular warn against broadcasting information about our biological make-up, which could be used to manufacture weapons that target humans. Instead, any contact with ETs should be limited to mathematical discourse “until we have a better idea of the type of ETI we are dealing with.”

The authors warn that extraterrestrials may be wary of civilisations that expand very rapidly, as these may be prone to destroy other life as they grow, just as humans have pushed species to extinction on Earth. In the most extreme scenario, aliens might choose to destroy humanity to protect other civilisations.

“A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilisation may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand. Humanity may just now be entering the period in which its rapid civilisational expansion could be detected by an ETI because our expansion is changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere, via greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

“Green” aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. “These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets,” the authors write.

Even if we never make contact with extraterrestrials, the report argues that considering the potential scenarios may help to plot the future path of human civilisation, avoid collapse and achieve long-term survival.

The idea of ETs giving a crap whether we destroy the Earth or not is laughable. It would eliminate a potential competitor without them lifting a finger (tentacle, mandible, hoof, nanobot?) and be energy efficient.

Somehow, since our Earth is only 4.3 Billion years old and the Universe and our galaxy are both over 13 Billion years old, it is likely any other civilization locally is millions of years older than we are. Therefore their physics are as beyond us as ours is beyond Homo Erectus.

Something to think about.

From the ‘X-Files’ Dept: NASA’s Alien Contact Scenario

Kudos to the Daily Grail!