By Sagar S Jul. 02, 2017
Scientists are certain extra-terrestrial life exists. But who on Earth is in charge of dealing with aliens?
In an undisclosed location, somewhere along the Mediterranean coastline, is a subterranean bunker. Under the harsh glare of artificial lights, an Israeli Air Force commander is briefing his group of “Generation Y” cadets. This is the Ofek (Horizon) unit of the army; young, highly trained specialists who fight the final frontier.
Today’s mission: “Aliens are landing in Israel. We need to hack the systems.” The cadets get to work, in an attempt to sabotage the invading alien spacecraft as the commander watches.
It’s all actually a cyber-defence training exercise, an elaborate set-up. So aliens aren’t secretly landing on the Western Wall.
But what if they were?
Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and other more intelligent people, agree – there’s life out there. It’s a logical deduction – planets past number, billions of stars, galaxies galore, it all adds up. Water has been discovered on Mars, a sign that even if extra-terrestrial life hasn’t existed so far, it could in the future.
Like Einstein said, “Why should the Earth be the only planet supporting human life? It is not singular in any other respect.”
So, in 2015, NASA got scientists, historians, philosophers, and theologians to discuss a global contingency plan. “To try and prepare the public for what the implications might be, when such a discovery is made,” said former chief NASA historian, Steven J Dick. Agenda points: what do aliens look like, what might they be made of, what happens when we find them, and whether they’re a Samantha or a Miranda.
Pop culture’s already played out some of the scenarios. The projections say we’d either be scared of them (‘The Thing’) or try to hit on them (Leeloo, Fifth Element). Some of them (Naavi) seem like they would be fun to get high with.
Hawking, however, believes that the encounter would more probably not end in an orgy. He thinks things would end badly for us – that we’d be the Native Americans to the alien Europeans. In other words, he thinks the aliens would bring their own plants, animals, and diseases into our ecosystem.
But that’s only if aliens are intelligent and capable of interstellar communication.
What if microbes hitched a ride back to Earth with an astronaut—the premise of Alien. That could go one of two ways. They’d use us as host organisms. Or, in an unhappy twist, they’d win the War of the Worlds.
Earth has been sending out radio and TV broadcasts since 1936—the Berlin Olympics. If someone’s out there, intelligent enough to watch or listen to these signals, they’ve been watching years of TV and radio broadcasts. They could create a Facebook account and troll a YouTube video. They could hum along to the Beatles—NASA even beamed Across the Universe, across the universe.
That’s assuming information relayed is received instantaneously. But since we haven’t made contact in 80 years of broadcast, and given the speed waves travel through space, it’s likely that any alien life observing Earth is looking back in time at King Arthur’s round table, not at Kim Kardashian’s ample…
It could also be that alien life is a microbial organism, at the bottom of the evolutionary scale. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) institute, says that’s most likely. It’s an extrapolation from habitable worlds we’ve explored, with water and oxygen — like Mars and Europa. We’ve seen no signs of advanced beings. But, what if, microbes hitched a ride back to Earth with an astronaut—the premise of Alien.
That could go one of two ways. They’d use us as host organisms. Or, in an unhappy twist, they’d win the War of the Worlds—the 1897 H G Wells story where aliens colonise us before they’re defeated by a common virus. The premise of this novel is also the reason why the Mars rovers have been barred from immediately inspecting water on the Red Planet.
National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden has said aliens have been trying to make contact with us for ages, though given the deep encryption, we’ve no idea what these messages would look like or whether we’d be able to read them. But Snowden is also linked to a conspiracy theorist’s claim that the US government is being controlled by tall, white, Nazi-sympathising aliens.
The pressing problem with all these projections is there’s no post-detection policy in place. It is likely that alien contact would be sudden, but no country has adopted any policy to decide what happens when contact is made. A body does, however, exist within the United Nations (UN), the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, to deal with the “sharing of information about potential dangers in outer space”.
In 2014, there was even talk of a UN ambassador being appointed for alien contact (didn’t happen).
Scientists say chaos can only be avoided if there is global cooperation in forming an international political body, a plan, ratified by world powers.
SETI, in another instance of America taking the lead, has compiled a set of guidelines that Earth needs in the battle versus the Universe. The treatise commits, “States, Parties to inform the United Nations as well as the public and the international scientific community… of the nature, conduct, locations, and results of their space exploration activities.”
The protocol, adopted in 1989, is that anyone who detects a radio signal indicating alien life should get in touch with SETI researchers, who will help verify it. At this point, the International Astronomical Union and the UN need to be notified. Each organisation will then conduct its own fact-finding mission before the discoverer gets to make the first public announcement. The coordinates are to be kept secret, so that everyone with a radio telescope doesn’t get to say hi to the alien.
Chances of the global protocol getting deployed are about the same as global poverty getting eradicated. Trump will orate, Putin will posture, and missionaries will open alien conversion camps.
Let’s hope someone tells Israel.