8 Things That Would Happen If We Made Alien Contact
BY Stevie Shephard
It could happen at any time, but are we ready?
It seems as though a week doesn’t go by these days without us discovering some new planet, star or alien megastructure.
Frankly, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before spaceships start falling from the skies and we finally get our invitation to the intergalactic party.
It would appear that the world’s powers also seem to think so and it might surprise you to learn that there are actual, official protocols in place, should we ever make “first contact”.
These official procedures include everything from first detection to “How to Say Hello In Alien” but, even then, there are some who think that this isn’t enough.
The discovery that we are not alone in the universe would probably shake humanity to its very core. The greatest thinkers of the age, from scientists to philosophers to theologians, have all tried to predict what this would mean for the human race, with varying degrees of doom, gloom or tentative optimism.
And that’s just how humans will react, who knows how the little green men will react when they find a planet full of weird, hairless apes, desperately firing out radio signals in the hope of a reply.
8. First Contact Protocol
Yes, there is actually an official protocol in place for alien contact. Yet more proof, if any were needed, that science is definitely the coolest subject.
The procedure makes the fairly reasonable assumption that alien first contact would be made through one of our radio telescopes. We’re always picking up blips and bloops from space with those things, so it’s pretty reasonable to think that we’d also pick up a signal from a passing alien.
In the event of picking up a signal that we think indicates that we’re not alone, the person who detects it should immediately get in touch with SETI who will attempt to verify the signal by eliminating all other possible sources.
Once verified, the person who originally detected the signal gets first dibs on the privilege of announcing it to the press (although the details would be kept back to prevent just anyone sending a message). Then we have the issue of how to respond.
The likelihood is that we’d fire off a simple string of binary, just to indicate that there’s a thinking species down here.
After this hailing signal has been sent and received, we then need to come to terms with the idea that we’re no longer alone in the universe and that is a whole other kettle of fish.
7. Close To Home
Of course, it’s perfectly possible, and probably more likely, that if we find alien life, it’s not going to be at the “radio signal” stage.
So, let’s dial it back a bit for the moment and imagine that we discover extraterrestrial life a little closer to home (don’t worry, we’ll get to the “alien overlords” bit).
If it turns out that life is actually a pretty common occurrence in the universe, then there are a couple of places we might find it in our own solar system. Whilst it’s unlikely that there’s a hyper-advanced race living it up on Mars (unless they’ve got some crazy cool holographic cloaking systems or something), there might yet be microbial life present. Not exactly exciting if you’ve grown up on a diet of Doctor Who, but it would still essentially double the figure for “known habitable planets”. There are even some who think that Venus might be hiding something beneath its thick blanket of clouds.
Further afield, there could be yet more exciting things. Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede appear to have a subterranean ocean each. Whilst it would be darker and colder than we can possibly imagine down there, there’s still a chance that life might develop. It might not be in the “beaming out radio signals” game, but it might be more complex than microbial sludge.
Moving away from planets and moons altogether, there’s also a distinct possibility that something might be knocking around in the asteroid belt. The idea that the building blocks for life were delivered to Earth via asteroid impact would fit with this.
As exciting as it would be to find a bunch of microbes partying it up throughout the solar system, it’s probably not what most people have in mind when they think of E.T., so let’s dive deeper into the hypothetical world of “contact”.
6. The Seven Steps To Contact
Back in the 1950s, the US military reportedly created a document entitled “Seven Steps to Contact,” outlining a recommended procedure for contact with intelligent alien life forms.
The seven steps cover the scenario in which we discover aliens on their own planet, as opposed to them dropping out of our earthly skies.
The first step we would take would be to commence remote surveillance, just to check that they aren’t super-into stuff like “roasting human corpses” or “rampant nuclear warfare”.
The next few steps would be to make flybys and near approaches, occasionally touching down in isolated spots to get the lay of the land. We would take samples of the local wildlife for analysis and perhaps even taking a closer look at the intelligent beings too. After this, we would begin to make our presence known by approaching in ships and demonstrating as effectively as possible that we mean to harm, whilst at the same time staying out of harm’s way.
Finally, if they haven’t tried to shoot us down after all of that faffing around in their atmosphere, we’d reach out to make some kind of diplomatic contact.
It might not have escaped your notice that this all sounds remarkably like the reports of alien encounters here on Earth. The document, however, was actually written before the first reported abduction and it is thought that it actually served as an inspiration for many descriptions of alien abductions in a weird sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Either that, or the aliens have drawn up a document that is spookily similar to ours.
Although the search for extraterrestrials is a largely (okay, entirely) scientific endeavour, were we ever to actually find those extraterrestrials, it would have all kinds of “spiritual” implications for the human race.
This is something that the Brookings Report, a report commissioned by NASA in the 1960s to study the implications of humans in space, took into account. In the footnotes for the report, the need for the world’s major religions to have a proper, sit-down think about the impact of aliens on their world views is brought up.
Current doctrine is basically anthro- and geo-centric, with little consideration given to the idea that there is anything, let alone life, beyond the Earth (and heaven/hell obvs). What would it mean for, say, fundamentalist Christians, who hold the view that God created the Earth in six days and man was created in his image?
If we found another “Earth” with another “man”, it would be like suddenly discovering that your dad has a secret family that he takes to football at the weekends and our ideas of how “special” we are would need a serious rethink.
That said, religion is a tenacious old beast. Many thinkers reckon that the discovery of extraterrestrials, far from finally killing religion off, would spur on whole new disciplines of Astrotheology and Universal Creationism.
Basically, we all become scientologists.
4. Unity, Peace And Love
Speaking of the philosophical impacts, there are those who think that the discovery of alien life might actually lead to an age of unprecedented peace amongst men.
Before you get too excited, this is mainly because we’d all have a new enemy to hate.
As a species, we love a bit of tribalism. We’re programmed to fear difference and band together in the face of the “other”. This has led to bloodier and bloodier wars ever since we figured out how to throw rocks at one another. However, the discovery of an entirely new and different species of intelligent being might force us to begin shining a light on our similarities rather than our differences.
Depending on the nature of our relations with the aliens, we might not even have the choice. In the face of a hostile invasion force, it rather behooves the human race to forget about who has slightly more melanin in their skin and work together to fend off the many-headed super-race invading our planet to mine the calcium from our bones (for example).
Even if the incoming aliens are friendlier and/or less interested in harvesting our bodies for materials, the existence of a species that we would consider to be “on our level” and yet different, would still force us to ponder what it means to be a human, what do we all share that defines us as a species?
3. Historical Precedents
To get a reasonable idea as to how people would react to actual contact with extraterrestrials, we can look at all of the other times people thought they had contacted extraterrestrials.
With the gift of hindsight, it’s pretty easy to forget that people’s responses to previous hoaxes and false alarms were, at the time, genuine. Of course, knowledge might have moved on a little in the scientific community, but the public reaction to first contact would likely be surprisingly similar.
It has also been put forwards that we could gain a similar understanding of how us easily-spooked humans respond in a crisis by looking at the reactions of isolated societies when exposed to technological, global society and culture, because that is essentially what we would be.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that it would simply be No Big Deal after some time. As amazing as the prospect of discovering alien life seems to us now, we’ve discovered lots of things in the past.
Nobody is particularly shocked and awed about the existence of the Americas anymore, but there was a time when that was the wonder if the age. If we did find a planet with a load of little green men on it, we’d probably be over it in the next 100 years or so.
2. Prepare For The Worst…
Speaking of historical precedents…
As wonderful as many of humanity’s achievements are, you have to admit that we have an instinct for war and pillage, and there’s nothing to say that aliens won’t be the same.
Stephen Hawking has famously said that contacting aliens could have catastrophic consequences. The thinking is that, for an intelligent species to gather together the technology and resources to travel through interstellar space, there’s got to be a better reason than to have a chat with the humans.
Given that a lot of our current plans for space exploration centre around the potential to mine resources from moons, planets and asteroids, there’s a very good chance that the the only way we could get aliens to visit our little planet would be if they wanted something that we have.
Something like, say, water, gasses from our atmosphere or minerals. They could be eyeing up all of that lovely hydrogen in our sun as we speak.
This “compete or die” instinct has been bred into us by Darwinian evolution and the chances are that a species similar to us will have grown up with the same kind of pressures (although it would be a hell of a coincidence if they also called it “Darwinian”).
As the Cambridge professor, Simon Conway Morris, put it “if the cosmic phone rings, don’t answer,” it could be the last thing we ever do.
1. …Hope For The Best
If that’s all a bit doom and gloom, then never fear, because there’s a chance that, by the time a species gets to the point of flying around in spaceships, they’ll have progressed beyond the “hit and run” stage and might genuinely just want to meet us.
Of course, there’s also the chance that a species that advanced wouldn’t think we were worth talking to.
Just in case it’s the first option, there are actually some researchers out there with SETI that are currently trying to figure out exactly how we would communicate, should the aliens come a-knocking.
Dr John Elliott of the UK SETI Research Network has set about studying over 60 human languages to try and ascertain if there are any common threads throughout and has found that many languages do actually share a common structure.
Not only that, but we’ve also been able to spot patterns in the languages of other species, such as dolphins and chimps. Sure, we can’t speak fluent dolphin yet but it proves that inter-species understanding could well be on the cards.
All of this research would mean that we would be better equipped to recognise an alien message if it did fly into one of our radio telescopes and, more importantly, tell the difference between “We come in peace,” and “Bring us your women and prepare to die”.