Have your say in Earth’s message to the stars

Phone home: In the film ET, an alien builds a communication device from household objects.

If aliens call, what should we say? Scientists are asking the public how — and if — we should reply to a message from intelligent life. The decision could change the course of human history.

What’s happening

For decades, the most powerful telescopes on Earth have listened to the Universe for signs of life.

So far, they have heard nothing but silence. Now, scientists have stopped to think: if we do receive a message from intelligent alien life, how should we respond? Should we even reply at all?

Find out more

To find out the answer, scientists in the UK have launched the largest-ever survey of public attitudes towards alien contact.

The survey asks people what they think we should say to aliens if they get in touch. It asks whether we should send a message first. It asks who has the authority to make those decisions.

For ideas, we can look to humanity’s past attempts to talk to aliens. In 1974, scientists sent a radio message which included a graphic of our solar system and a human figure.

In 1977, the Voyager spacecrafts carried a golden record containing images and sounds of life on Earth.

Should we send a message to aliens? If so, what should it say?

Some say…

We should definitely contact them. It is human nature to search for connection and share our knowledge. Talking to aliens would be an historic opportunity to do that on a cosmic scale. We should send out a message of peace and see what happens.

Others think…

We should keep quiet. As Stephen Hawking once argued, any alien race able to reach Earth would be much more advanced than humanity. They could easily destroy us — and it is unlikely they would come all this way just to say hello.

You Decide

  1. Are we alone in the Universe?

Activities

  1. As a class, discuss some of the issues raised in this article. Then, fill in the survey about whether humans should try to contact aliens.

Some People Say...

“I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the Universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.”

Bill Watterson, US cartoonist and writer of Calvin and Hobbes comics

What do you think?

Word Watch

Authority
The power to make decisions.
Humanity
Human beings as a group.
Graphic
Drawing or illustration.
Solar system
The eight planets orbiting our Sun.
Record
A flat disc made of a type of plastic, which holds recorded information (usually music).
Cosmic
Related to the cosmos, which is another word for the Universe.
Stephen Hawking
A famous British scientist (1942-2018) who studied space, particularly black holes.

Subjects

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