IF YOU were to find out what the individuals who actually know things are concerned about, you’d realize how blissful your ignorance really is.
Killer robots, unstoppable disease, deadly discharge from the sun, a distant life form switching us off like a TV set. These are genuine anxieties of the people far brainier than the rest of us. And all could lead to an end of civilization as we know it.
Writing in the recently published book What Should We Be Worried About?, senior astronomer Dr Seth Shostak admits this, “sounds like shabby science fiction, but even if the probability of disaster is low, the stakes are high.”
The problem is that for over 60 years, we’ve been sending signals, including TV and radio broadcasts, into deep space. Surely, you might think, all those episodes of Broadwalk Empire must fizzle out long before they reach the moon? Actually, no. according to Shostak, if an alien race had an antenna as big as the 305m-tall Arecibo in Puerto Rico, it would be able to pick up Jimmy Fallon or David Attenborough from 4.2 light years away. While it’s unlikely intelligent life exists this close, it’s generally believed that if other civilisations do exist elsewhere, some will have significantly better technology than ours.
Don’t believe us? Maybe you’ll listen to Stephen Hawking. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said in a 2010 Discovery Channel documentary. And they wouldn’t even necessarily need to be inhabiting a distant planet. Hawking thinks the risk is that ‘aliens’ will pick up a broadcast of, say, Nigella’s Christmas Special and that could coax them here.
“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach,” he said. “If aliens visit us, it would be like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans … We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
But what can we do about it? The prognosis from Shostak isn’t good. “It’s too late to be worried about alerting the aliens to our presence,” he writes. “That information is en route at the speed of light, and alien societies only slightly more accomplished than ours will easily notice. By the 2200s, these alerts to our existence will have washed across a million star systems. There’s no point in fretting about telling aliens we’re here. The deed has been done, and the letter’s in the mail.”
More ways via News.com.au.