If aliens contacted Earth, should we respond? And what would we say?
25 July 2019
These, and other questions, form part of a new short video featuring Leeds Beckett University’s Dr John Elliott alongside Professor Brian Cox.
Filmed at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Manchester - the third-largest steerable radio telescope in the world – the video also includes members of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence).
In the film, entitled A Message from Afar, Professor Cox explains that the SETI scientists are using cutting-edge research to try and answer some big questions about space.
“Since we first looked up at the moon and stars, we must have asked questions about our place in the universe,” he says.
“So, how did life begin on Earth? Is life common out there in the solar system and beyond? Are there other civilisations out there, waiting to be discovered? And what would it be like to live on other planets?”
The Royal Society film explains that 25 years ago, humans only knew about the planets in our own solar system, compared to the 5,000 planets now known to orbit stars.
And it suggests there might be “a large probability” of other intelligent civilisations in the universe who could make contact anytime, “in the next hour, tomorrow”, having scientific, cultural and religious impact.
Dr Elliott, who recently displayed his work at the Royal Society’s prestigious summer exhibition, explains his role would involve decoding any alien message, using expertise gained from extensive research about how humans – and animals - communicate.
His work would make a significant contribution to deciphering what type of signal and content has been received.
And it would help to decide if we respond to any alien message, which could be mankind’s greatest single opportunity to better understand the universe and begin a conversation with intelligent life from another world.
Dr Elliott, from the university’s School of Computing, Creative Technologies & Engineering, explains in the film: “We are creating a corpus - a body of language that incorporates all the different ways humans communicate, but also, as best we can, how animals do it.
“And so I look at everything from bees to humans and in between, with apes, birds, and of course dolphins.
“If we know we’re in a conversation, I would say the best way for us to contact them is to first say “hello there, this is us”, a simple message, and then build upon that.
“Behind that would be a more complex, more detailed message about us, and then we’ll send that off and then wait for, in a generation or two, the response.”
Dr Elliott adds: “They (aliens) are likely to have gone through phases of war, like we have, and come through the other side and learned from it and be better for it. Any advanced civilisation is far more likely to be that benevolent type of mindset.”