What If We Do Find Aliens? How Prepared Is Earth For Meeting Extraterrestrials


Time to talk about my favorite topic: aliens. We’ve covered the Fermi Paradox many times
over several episodes of the Guide to Space. This is the idea that the Universe is huge,
and old, and the ingredients of life are everywhere. Life could and should have have appeared many
times across the galaxy, but it’s really strange that we haven’t found any evidence
for them yet. We’ve also talked about how we as a species
have gone looking for aliens. How we’re searching the sky for signals
from their alien communications. How the next generation of space and ground-based
telescopes will let us directly image the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. If we see large quantities of oxygen, or other
chemicals that shouldn’t be around, it’s a good indication there’s life on their
planet. We’ve even talked about how aliens could
use that technique on us. We’ve been sending our radio and television
signals out into space for the last few decades. Who knows what crazy things they think about
our “historical documents”? But Earth life itself has been broadcasting
our existence for hundreds of millions of years, since the first plankton started filling
our atmosphere with oxygen. A distant civilization could be analyzing
our atmosphere and know exactly when we entered the industrial age. But what we haven’t talked about, the space
elephant in the room, if you will, is what we’ll do if we actually make contact. What are we going to say to each other? And what will happen if the aliens show up? Although there’s no official protocol on
talking to aliens, scientists and research institutions have been puzzling out the best
way we might communicate for quite a while. Perhaps the best example is the SETI Institute,
the US-based research group who have dedicated radio telescopes scanning the skies for messages
from space. Let’s imagine you’re a SETI researcher,
and you’re browsing last night’s logs and you see what looks like a message. Maybe it’s instructions to build some kind
of dimensional portal, or a recipe book. Whatever you do, don’t try out the recipes. Instead, you need to make absolutely sure
you’re not dealing with some kind of natural phenomenon. Then you need to reach out to other researchers
and get them to confirm the signal. If they agree it’s aliens, then you need
to inform the International Astronomical Union and other international groups, like the United
Nations, Committee on Space Research, etc. Unless they’ve got some good reason to stop
you, it’s time to announce the discovery to the worldwide media. You made the discovery, you get to break the
news to the world. At this point, of course, the entire world
is going to freak right out. Whatever you do, however, you have to resist
the urge to send back a message or build that dimensional portal, no matter how much you
think you understand the science. Instead, let an international committee mull
it over while you stockpile supplies in a secret alien proof bunker in the desert. In a second, we’re going to talk about how
that international committee is going to figure out what to say to a terrifying and overwhelmingly
powerful space empire. But first, I’d like to thank Jabbar Nodehi,
Zach Kanzler, John Marshall, and the rest of our 643 patrons for their generous support. If you love what we’re doing and want to
help out, head over to patreon.com/universetoday. What kind of message should we actually craft
to our new alien penpals? Will we become fast friends, jump starting
our own technological progress, or will we insult them by accident? In 2000, and international group of SETI researchers
including the famous Jill Tarter devised The Rio Scale. It really easy to use, and there’s even
a fun online calculator. Step 1, figure out the class of phenomenon. Is it a message sent directly to Earth, expecting
a reply? Or did we merely find some alien artifact
or old timey Dyson sphere orbiting a nearby star? Step 2, how verifiable is the discovery? Are we talking ongoing signals received by
SETI researchers, or a hint in some old data that’s impossible to confirm? Step 3, how far are we talking here? Hovering over Paris? Within our Solar System, or outside the galaxy? Step 4, how sure are you? 100% certain, and everyone agrees because
they can all see that enormous mothership floating above London? Or nobody believes you, and they’ve locked
you up because of your insane ramblings and misappropriation of government equipment? Punch in your numbers and you’ll get a rank
on The Rio Scale between 0 and 10. Level 0 is “no importance” or “you’re
a crank”, while level 10 is “extraordinary importance”, or “now would be a good time
to panic”. SETI researcher Seth Shostak, calculated the
Rio Scale for various sci-fi movies and shows. The first message from aliens in Independence
Day would count as a 4. While the obliteration of the White House
by a massive floating alien city that everybody could see would count as a 10. the messages received in Contact, and independently
confirmed by researchers around the world would qualify in the 4-8 range, while the
monolith discovered on the Moon in 2001 would be a solid 6. Now you know how important the discovery is,
what do you say back to those chatty aliens? This falls under the term CETI, which means
Communications with Extraterrestrial Aliens, which shouldn’t be confused with SETI, or
the Search for Extraterrestrial Aliens. And it turns out, that horse has already left
the stable. When the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft were
constructed, they were equipped with handy maps to find Earth’s precise location in
the Milky Way. In 1974, Carl Sagan and Frank Drake who composed
a message in alienese and broadcast it into space from the Arecibo Observatory. In 1999 and 2003 a series of signals were
transmitted towards various interesting stars. The messages contained images of Earth, as
well as various mathematical principles that could be used by aliens as a common language. We’ll know if that was a good idea in a
few decades. In 2015, scientists like David Grinspoon,
Seth Shostak and David Brin collected together to discuss if it’s a wise idea to send messages
off into space, to broadcast our existence to potentially hostile alien civilizations. According to Seth Shostak, the best message
we can send is the entire internet. Just send it all, they’ll work out what
we’re all about. The science fiction author David Brin thinks
that’s a terrible idea, and we should keep our mouths shut. Personally, I think the aliens already know
we’re here. If they wanted to invade and destroy our planet,
they would have done it millions of years ago when early life made it obvious this planet
was inhabited. The jig is up. It’s a mind bending concept to imagine what
life might be like if we knew with absolutely certainty that there’s an alien civilization
right over there, on that world. I’m sure people will freak out for a while,
but then we’ll probably just go back to life as normal. Human beings can get bored by the most surprising
and amazing things. If you learned there was definitely an alien
civilization out there, how do you think humanity would respond? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. In our next episode, we talk about interesting
kinds of multiple star systems. Oh, and make sure you stick around for the
blooper. Even if the aliens do come to invade our planet,
would we even be able to see them coming? How much advanced notice would we get of an
inbound invasion fleet? Here’s a video that talks about the physics
of alien detection.

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