How Would Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World?

by Nancy Atkinson on April 5, 2012

Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter

Artist concept of an exoplanet. Credit: NASA

According to Star Trek lore, it is only 51 years until humans encounter their first contact with an alien species. In the movie “Star Trek: First Contact,” on April 5, 2063, Vulcans pay a visit to an Earth recovering from a war-torn period (see the movie clip below.) But will such a planet-wide, history-changing event ever really take place? If you are logical, like Spock and his Vulcan species, science points towards the inevitability of first contact. This is according to journalist Marc Kaufman, who is a science writer for the Washington Post and author of the book “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for life Beyond Earth.” He writes that from humanity’s point of view, first contact would be a “harbinger of a new frontier in a dramatically changed cosmos.”

What are some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of first contact ever taking place and what would the implications be?

“One argument against first contact is from those who say there is no other life in the Universe,” said Kaufman, speaking to Universe Today via phone, “and with that is the Fermi paradox, which says that if there is so much life out there, why hasn’t it visited us yet? That was first posited back in the 1950’s and with everything we’ve learned since then, it seems rather presumptuous and Earth-centric to say that because no one has come to Earth, there is no life out there.”

Kaufman argues the Universe is so vast, the number of exoplanets is so huge – with the number of exoplanets in habitable zones now gaining in numbers almost daily – and we now understand that all the makings for the building blocks of life are out in space, so it defies logic to argue there is no other life out there.

Another argument against first contact states there might be microbial life elsewhere in the Universe, but it is not intelligent. “This is where the Fermi paradox comes in even more,” Kaufman said. “It certainly is true — as far as we know — that no intelligent life has made contact with Earth. But when you look at the amount of time we’ve been a technologically advanced society, it has only been a few hundred years. In the vastness of time, that is a pitifully small amount of time – truly nothing.”

In the immensity of cosmological time, Kaufman said, it is quite possible that microbial life emerged and evolved a billion years ago on another world and we missed coinciding with it, as civilizations could have come and gone.

“But all the makings are there and unless we want to say that Earth was made through divine creation or only through an unbelievable set of circumstances this is the only place in the Universe where life began, it just seems hugely, hugely implausible,” Kaufman said.

So, Kaufman says, the best, most logical argument is that life exists beyond Earth and in some instances includes what we would consider intelligence.

“If you have microbial life and billions of planets in habitable zones, the logic says that some of them will advance like we did,” Kaufman said. “There’s no reason to say that evolution is exclusive to Earth. It feels very 14th or 15th century-Earth-centric to say that we are the only place where there is intelligent life.”

Our continued scientific understanding, and in particular, the recent ongoing finding of so many exoplanets, has been a real revolution in our understanding of the cosmos, Kaufman said, and it is a huge boost to the logic of finding life elsewhere.

“It was hypothesized for decades, if not centuries that other planets were out there,” he said. “Now that we are finding planets almost every day, from a scientific perspective, it shows us that if the science is pointing in a certain direction, you just need to have the technology and the knowledge catch up to that hypothesis.”

Kaufman says that like the surge in finding exoplanets, astrobiology is likely the next area of science where breakthroughs will happen.

“Scientists almost unanimously believe there is other life out there, but we just don’t have the technology to find it yet,” he said. “Even with the recent potential cuts in NASA’s budget for planetary missions, and even if NASA is not able to send up as many missions, there is a broad movement going on in college campuses and institutes – from working on synthetic life, to studies in cosmology, and astrochemistry — all of those things are moving forward because there is a real sense that something is within reach. This area of science is just going to blossom.”

So if tomorrow (or on April 5, 2063) a spaceship shows up, how would we respond?

“On one level, I’d hope there would be a huge amount of wonder and awe and a recognition of the vastness of the Universe. But I also imagine there would be a lot of defensiveness, as well,” said Kaufman, referring to some, like Stephen Hawking, who say we shouldn’t send messages out into space — because if a more technically advanced civilization comes to Earth, the outcome for the less advanced (us) would likely be bad.

But Kaufman has hope that Earthlings would welcome a visit.

“Look at the continuing fascination of Roswell or UFOs,” he said. “Throughout history, humans have looked to the skies and thought that we’ve experienced something ‘out there’ – be it angels or gods or spaceships. There is, I believe, a deep human craving that we aren’t alone, and that would be a significant part of our response.”

For more information see Kaufman’s book, and website,”Habitable Zones”

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Peristroika April 6, 2012 at 2:02 PM

Face it. With an example of …well, one, we have no basis at all of even suggesting a pattern ie: percentages of worlds in habitable zone will have some life, or life becomes multicellular after so many years on each habitable planet. We have not, so far, even been able to induce life into inanimate matter even while understanding much of the basis of our own. Clearly, even our own world is extremely harsh to life and has been and will be harsher still. The rest of the bodies in our solar system are only remote possibilities for even microbial life.
IMHO, If, in the remotest likelihood, from the remotest system, a species did come, it would never be with laser cannons blasting or germ warfare bombs adropping because it would have had to be: organized (humans read as: not squabbling amongst themselves), inventive, intelligent, curious, interested enough to put much effort (humans read: money) into their hopes, patient, persistent, cautious, productive, and hopeful, together which do not describe a people of bomb first, ask questions later, mentality. Look at us as example. Even with our baser instincts, we still build our spaceships in clean rooms and avoid contamination at all costs even on dead looking bodies of our own system.

Terrill Kincaid April 6, 2012 at 4:15 PM

I find it interesting that you are saying it’s impossible for a civilization like our own to find us, because they would not bother looking, while at the same time pointing out that we are looking.

It makes no sense to assume just because they have found us that they are some utopian society.

Peristroika April 6, 2012 at 10:23 PM

Terrill, you certainly read much into a simple statement. Not much that it actually says though! I didn’t mention impossibilities. I didn’t mention not looking or that we are. So maybe you replied to the wrong person.
Also, I didn’t say Utopian. I only said with those attributes, they would be hard pressed to be violent warlords.

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 2:54 PM

I don’t necessarily disagree or agree with all that. But I note that we have “induced life” (made self-replicating molecular systems) in our laboratories. (Say, those DNA strands where X builds Y and Y builds X.)

However, we have not yet made evolving life. Even less evolving life that would be robust enough to be a feasible pathway once taken. I bet Shostak Lab will be the first to do that.

bfmorris April 8, 2012 at 6:25 PM

The truth is, we’re no where near qualified to receive a star on our forehead for creating life . ‘Inducing life’ looks like the equivalent of happening onto an an old tire to play with, then watch it roll down the road while saying we’ve built a car. To be brutally honest with ourselves, shouldn’t we get at least a single cell, (complete with it’s mind boggling thousands of simultaneous processes all working together) going from scratch before we call our product ‘life’ in any fashion?

I love to read these threads though, and daydream of the possibilities; it certainly give a break from the harsh truths alluded to by Peristroika.

klrog April 6, 2012 at 3:12 PM

How would we respond? That’s easy. We would send them our genome so they could simulate us and see what we are like. After they finish laughing, they could return suggestions for improvement. We could then improve our genome to the point that we could answer our own questions.

jjbreen April 6, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Assuming “they” care about that and understand genome.

space_sailor April 6, 2012 at 3:36 PM

There are a lot of possibilities why there where no contact so far. One of them is simple fact that maybe we don`t offer nothing interesting for this much more developed civilisations who can communicate with us so there`s no need to do that from thier perspective.

jjbreen April 6, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Or there is simply no life out there, “close enough” to communicate. Likely more the case then not.

space_sailor April 7, 2012 at 9:02 PM

One more general idea. If other civilisations measurements are based on electromagnetic waves produced by our civilisation and we are sure that FTL is impossible only worlds closer that let say 150 light years are in signal range (divide by 2 for possible answer). If faster then light is impossible it means also that such expedition will take whole life or more from human perspective. We don`t know life span of aliens but it could be completly different (shorter or longer). But it`s still not weekend trip and they need THE REASON to do that.

jjbreen April 8, 2012 at 7:45 PM

Belief in intelligent life is different then having proof. Belief is just not enough. We can have all sorts of wonderful beliefs …. but well ….. proof is another reality.

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 2:15 PM

As I noted elsewhere, what’s the definition of ‘interesting?’ ETs may not share yours, and it would take only one that wants to go check out the ‘primitives’ anyway…

jjbreen April 6, 2012 at 3:46 PM

A couple of points -

First:

I’m glad to see we’ve gotten over the “fear factor” and such. Last time I heard – read that argument, I asked, ‘Really? With Star Trek, Star Wars and all the other movies out there. One actually thinks we are ‘not ready?’. I think we are actually at the point that we expect it to happen. Hope it will happen.”

Second:

Life. I am glad to see we’ve moved that “Life” can be microbial, cellular, simple (amoeba), to non-intelligent (animal/fish) life. Yes I except that Dolphins and Whales are “Intelligent”, but none technological creators.

Third:

You may not agree with the guys theology. But I suggest a read the first 5+ chapters of: WHY THE UNIVERSE IS THE WAY IT IS. By Ross.

He points out the science of what is involved with the Habitable Zone. It’s not just Planets that need to be “IN THE ZONE”. So do stars, in relationship to other stars, and their Galaxy. Plus you have to have the “RIGHT” star and such. Just because a planet is “In The Zone” – does not mean “Life”.

There is a lot of “chemistry” that has to be “just right”, not just in a given solar system, but that systems location in their galaxy.

Now do I believe we will find life any time “soon”? (Within the next 100 – 200 years.) We will find cellular life on some of the moons in our system. But technology creating life? No. I don’t think so. I think we will find that, and please read what I write, it’s not as common as we would life to believe. There is just to much science that has to be “just right” and even in our own evolution, the first spark had to have everything “just perfect”.

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 2:42 PM

Rare Earth is nuts.

First off, it is meaningless to weigh in everything from inflation to the last meal you ate to make up how “right” everything would need to be for your existence.

Second, the speed with which life originated on Earth shows how easy such a process is. That translates to how robust it likely is, and how little constraints it has.

And really, everything we observe on the pathway from chemical to biological evolution shows how universal these processes are.

As for technology, which sundry organisms from fishes to apes and those dolphins you deny having been seen using tools have shown (or at least in apes been shown as multigenerational examples of learned technological culture), that is no biggie.

The problem, according to biologists, are unique traits such as language capable brains. Those will likely happen once in a blue Moon.

So, no Rare Earth, but a Rare Moon. =D

jjbreen April 7, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Thus says you. But right now the proof is, could there be “earth like planets”, YES! But that does not equate to “life on said earth like planet”.

Even for Evolution to take place. Things just had to be “Just Right”, even my Anthropology Science Classes have said that.

She is a confirmed “Non-Believer”, but even she said, “If things were not just right, we might not be here.” She pointed out in our class that we have tried to ‘create’ life – simple cells, from what we believe were the conditions “then” and have yet to do so. We needed/need “life” to begin it. (BTW – That was a college class 3rd year.)

So it has nothing to do with the “God Equation”. But everything to do with SCIENCE, in that if the conditions are not “just right” – even the best planned out science experiment can and will go “sour”.

Even for us on Earth – If all things had not been “just right” – Evolution would have never happened. A stray meteor, the wrong temperature, etc … could have, well we would not be posting this right now.

Mastercope April 6, 2012 at 3:49 PM

If and when we are visited or if we visit, the thing we need most to be rid of is Greed. we are all equal and need to understand this if we are ever to advance in the schema of things. Look at ourselves, we think MAD is the balance of power. We are but infants.

jjbreen April 6, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Well you have a flaw in that thinking – > You assume that other life out there is not greed endowed. Why? What if GREED and LUST and such is “Universal”?

Mastercope April 6, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Then we are doomed

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 2:11 PM

Or why it would matter to contact. Whatever ‘ready’ for contact might be, the Universe may not care if we are, when it happens.

Alien April 8, 2012 at 6:37 PM

If GREED and LUST were universal, we would have seen these traits in other species on our own planet.

Our problem is our economics and politics rather than technology. Even among the human species greed and lust is not ‘universal’. Otherwise how could there be compassion, altruism, etc etc to counter these two traits?

jjbreen April 8, 2012 at 7:42 PM

All humans suffer from this from one degree to another. Yes some less then others …. But it is a Intelligent Species trait. You would be sore pressed to prove other wise.

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Greed is good, that is how we manage local resource distribution by resource exchange. In the end it originates in the success of “selfish (greedy)” gene reproducers aka evolution. I don’t mean to say that not culture can have replacements for it, I mean to say it is useful biologically and culturally.

And we are decidedly not “equal” on any measurable scale. I think you are confusing this with democratic practices that legalize equal rights et cetera. They are useful too.

Thomas Houck April 6, 2012 at 4:39 PM

And we assume that we would be viewed as worth visiting? If another intelligence was technologically advanced enough to travel here from their home system they would likely be hundreds of thousands of years ahead of us in most araeas fo development. Waht would we have that they would want…some polished bits of glass and shell necklaces…?

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 2:09 PM

We can’t assume too much about what ETs, however advanced, would consider worthy of their time and attention. It’s often said that they won’t bother, we’d be like ants to them…

…Yet there’s a subset of humans that study ants and other insects, and with no intention to ‘trade’ with them.

We also don’t care if ants are aware f our existence. One would still expect identifiable, megascale engineering works like Dyson Spheres to be seen somewhere. Unless, of course (and also perhaps like ants) such things abound, but we don’t recognize or perceive them, at least as yet.

Ernie Dunbar April 6, 2012 at 4:48 PM

I suspect that Star Trek might just have the answer to the Fermi paradox: any intelligence even close to our level of technological advancement would already know that contact with less advanced cultures is utterly destructive to those cultures. I’m certain that on other planets with intelligent life, there would have been culture clashes between remote, isolated and primitive cultures and far more advanced ones, just within their own planet.

In other words, they wouldn’t contact us on purpose because they know it’s a Bad Idea.

danangel April 6, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Unless Hawking is right and they are intent on dominating less advanced species. Slave species probably die out or are absorbed after a while, so they need fresh ones to replace the old.

lcrowell April 7, 2012 at 2:36 AM

Intelligent life is probably pretty rare in the universe. There might only be one ETI bearing planet per galaxy per million or billion years. Even less frequent would be an ETI which builds spaceships and travels to other planets — even less frequently to other stars.

LC

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 2:26 PM

You are assuming that colonizers would like to mess with existing biospheres and, worse, existing technological civilizations. Too risky, too costly.

One idea would be to locally sterilize a spot in an existing biosphere (with a neutron bomb, say). And then try to adapt before the biosphere figures out how to take advantage of the new nutrient resources.

But bacteria will adapt in a few decades, and we would have no help from the innate immune system to manage them. I’ll say, still too risky.

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 2:00 PM

At this point in our development, we’re already becoming concerned with the prospect of technologies that would make very large sectors of employment utterly unnecessary, and what kind of economy is possible under those circumstances. If you can build fleets of starships, you can be assumed to have extreme mechanization and automation, right down to the molecular assembly level.

I submit that even given FTL travel, it’s far easier to have machines to do any likely work, than to import slaves that are much harder to acquire or maintain. What are slaves going to do, unless perhaps you possess a belief that you simply have a ‘right’ to organic entities you can consider property, or acquire for other reasons. Therefore…

If there’s any basis for interstellar conflict at all, it will be based on ET equivalents of philosophy, politics and religion. Not material resources. Those will be far more available in utterly uncontested, more convenient places.

danangel April 8, 2012 at 5:18 PM

My ‘slave’ hypothesis is only one possibility, Torbjorn touches on another. They could say, “Umm, nice planet for colonization. All we need to do is exterminate the vermin and move in.” Homo Sapiens being said vermin. A little ‘Black Flag’ or ‘Raid’ (ET grade) or perhaps some sort of pathogen, sprayed from high altitude. Voila! Planet ready for colonization!

Actually, under the slave idea, they could just want our brains to place in symbiotic robots. Probably easier than AI.

Of course, any thoughts we have on this subject are by necessity based on a human perspective. An alien culture may have no concept of individual rights (hive). At the least, as you say, they will have their own equivalents of philosophy, politics and religion. Think, if their religion teaches that everything that exists is here only for their pleasure, it would not bode well for us.

In the end, it doesn’t much matter what any of us thinks. If they have the ability to come here, they will do whatever they want.

danangel April 6, 2012 at 5:40 PM

Unless Hawking is right and they are intent on dominating less advanced species. Slave species probably die out or are absorbed after a while, so they need fresh ones to replace the old.

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Ernie, it takes only one civilization and/or one sufficently powerful entity within a civilization to disagree with that, and land on the White House lawn, or whatever. Not everyone will believe in a ‘Prime Directive,’ in spite of (or possibly *because* of) their history.

Indeed, I find it interesting that some people use that argument (especially where humans going out there are concerned), yet others (mostly in, but not limited to the UFO community) are *hoping* that ETs will show up one day, and help us with our assorted problems…

Jimmy Mathieu April 6, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Here’s what happens:
A specie economically & scientifically rises on it’s planet.
Their society is made, like ours, of cooperative egos.
Everyone in the end always thinking about themselvees and their own comfort, deliberately decide to ignore the limits of their world. They spoil and waste their ressourses until their climate and biosphere crashes and wars for survival kills the most part of the population.
They rapidly return to middle age then deprived of the ressources they have spoiled, they slowly recedes to a new stone age, possibly evolving to a new specie more fitted to survive their desert planet or go extinct.
New intelligent species may rises, but with no ressources, they may never reach a new technology era and remain crawling on the surface of their planet forever.

danangel April 6, 2012 at 5:35 PM

First, you say mankind will ruin our planet and die out, then you conclude “we probably should go to Venus-like or desert planets first” looking for evidence of other civilizations. Ummm…
Which is it?

Jimmy Mathieu April 6, 2012 at 9:43 PM

I mean tha if I apply the mediocrity principle, technological civilizations might not stand long before collasing and auto-destructing.
So, if technological civilizations stand only for a few thousands years, considering the age of the Universe and what remains of our dinosaurs (only 65million years ago), I believe the best way to find traces of ETs (and not ETs themselves) is to bring archaeologists on the right planets.

I also believe that they may have altered the climate and the biodiversity of their planet enough to have left observable imprints on the current state of their biosphere, millions of years later.

I’m desperatly cynical about the future of mankind and our planet. I guess you have noticed.
We have been smart enough to build the car, get in it and drive it because that suits our egos and our lazyness, but aren’t smart enough to make the great sacrifices that comes with pulling the brakes. We like to much our comfort so we will kill each other instead of rationnating our ressources. We too much rely on infinite economic growth, in a finite planet.

Evolutionnary convergeance principle states that for a same problem, evolution finds a same solution, like wings for birds, bats and flies.

Intelligence may come with long life and learning phase, then with egos and individualism, then with infinite search for a better comfort, then with infinite needs of ressources, then the spoiling of the biosphere…

I might be wrong (and I seriously hope so), but I would bet all I possess that it is the the moste frequent destiny of technological civilisation.

To avoid this fate, a specie should probably the more like an ant colony. But to be that way, the individuals of those species might have really slowly advanced their science because the worth of individuals is really low and because personnal curiosity and ambition has been a major lead to knowledge. Also, that kind of intelligent being might just not be interested in contacting us.

Alien April 8, 2012 at 5:43 PM

But the fact that people like you exist (count me in too, if you will) kind of makes a case for at least some technologically advanced civilizations to have prevented their own destruction and thrived. Also, if any of them have entered the space faring stage, they might have more resources at hand to avoid the self destruction that might await if you are stuck to one planet with its limited resources.

I don’t fully agree with the view that intelligent aliens visiting Earth would be necessarily hostile and interested only in our resources. There are so many planets out there full of resources that unless the Earth has something unique that is worth plundering (and life itself, I think, is probably not something worth plundering) I doubt the aliens would have a reason to be hostile with another civilization like ours.

Jimmy Mathieu April 6, 2012 at 9:53 PM

I don’t think we may reach the point to be able to find the remains of a distant civilization. most of them are extincted, and we will do so before we’ll ever travel the distance to find alien remains.

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Not to rain on your parade =D, but that has already happened many times over on our planet.

- The photosynthesizers famously wasted reducing resources until the whole biosphere crashed and is forever poisoned with oxygen ~ 2.5 billion years ago.*

- The first calcium skeleton sponges wasted the free organic resources by locking them up in sediments until the whole biosphere crashed and is forever scarce of methane ~ 700 billion years ago.*

Nothing our civilization can do will ever come up to the scale of damage these organisms caused to the biosphere then and forever on, because of the vast time scales necessary.

And we have 5 more mass extinction events to go through, either directly caused or promoted by the biosphere. Say, the K-Pg impactor caused an extinction event because it crashed down in calciferous and sulfurous waste heap sediments of organisms that was “always thinking about themselvees and their own comfort, deliberately decide to ignore the limits of their world. They spoil and waste their ressourses until their climate and biosphere crashes”.

Yet there remains vast resources for technological civilizations many times over. One reason is because everything from reducing resources (mantle cycle) over organics (kerogen cycle) are recycled over time. Another reason is because technology is adaptable to economical resources, say as when we stopped using coal and started using oil because it was more efficient.

One problem with dystopian (or utopian, for that matter) ideas is testability. Generally they can’t be tested. But I would say your particular dystopian scenario has been tested, and rejected, many times already.

————-
* Never mind that these two catastrophes combined to make large complex multicellulars possible. We still have to eke out our meager existence in the trashed world they left after wasting their plentitude of resources and tipping the balance forever.

Satake Yoshinobu April 6, 2012 at 6:05 PM

One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple. More likely is that since FTL is the holy grail that no one has achieved or achieve with a very limited success, it’s unlikely that aliens are going to be filling up the void with space ships just checking things out. Their economies could not likely support mass production of star ship (unless they figure how to make Mr. Fusion to power everything). Star ships would have to be fantastically complex machines that aren’t popping off the assembly line at a high rate. It takes years to build one sea going battleship. How long would it take for one star ship? Even during WWII when a number of countries were producing war ships at the fastest rate in history, the thousands produced and put afloat on the vastness of the ocean were no more than insignificant specks. Scale up to a space faring economy that has to cross interstellar distances with let’s say 1,000 ships that don’t have FTL, what’s the likelyhood that they’re going to expend time and resources on some backwater worlds? And then factor in the time scale wherein space faring civilizations could have risen and fallen many times before we figured out fire. The chances of some aliens just dropping in to say “hi!” quickly becomes vanishingly small.

jjbreen April 6, 2012 at 9:16 PM

Well the first part I totally agree with. But, ya – I love dialogs. There is a whole lot of assumptions here. First we assume we are “backwater worlds” – what IF we are not? What if we are actually (assumption on my part and for dialog sake) – one of the more advanced civilizations in the galaxy? SETI right now would seem to back that up, since over how many decades have we been combing the galaxy for signals?? Even with the advent of finding exo-solar planets. I know SETI has watched those areas as well. NADA. Plus what if we are “it” in this galaxy? That is still a very strong possibility …. based on current evidence. Now by “it” I mean, intelligent life that produces technology.

Torbjörn Larsson April 7, 2012 at 1:58 PM

As seen from my earlier comments I am highly critical to the hypothesis that Fermi’s question is anything than an apparent paradox, because it is too loosely constrained. I think you describe well the problems of economics with space explorations.

However, the question can be useful. In astrobiology it is used to point to the constraints of SETI and the Drake equation factor of civilization lifetime, which you touch on. Conceivably, if technological civilizations are long lived and curious enough, they could launch signaling programs and von Neumann exploration or even migration waves with little initial seed resources.

However, SETI will take decades to rule signaling out. And the natural pathway for migration is among the Oort clouds between stars, not the expensive and risky colonization of deep gravity wells, which means we likely could never observe it. (If Oort cloud migration need fusion or can make do with fission is an open question AFAIK. Fissiles would be concentrated in the differentiated mantle of large enough objects (litophiles), but is it economically retrievable?)

delphinus100 April 8, 2012 at 1:39 PM

“One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple.”

Where has that assumption been part of the Fermi Paradox? By a species both able inclined to do so (and even if there’s only one such species), you can get good coverage of the galaxy in 5-50 million years, at average speeds well under .5c of expansion.

FTL, if possible, only makes the Fermi Paradox yet harder to explain, unless something in the nature of such travel is actually a negative factor that we don’t know yet…

I don’t think it’s safe to liken starship construction rates to our current ability t build capital naval ships, either. With rather modest improvements in technology, this could be made much easier in either case, and we may assume the use of off-planet resources for anyone contemplating interstellar travel.

Satake Yoshinobu April 6, 2012 at 6:05 PM

One problem with the Fermi Paradox is that it assumes that an alien civilization has developed FTL capabilities which makes getting around the galaxy seem simple. More likely is that since FTL is the holy grail that no one has achieved or achieve with a very limited success, it’s unlikely that aliens are going to be filling up the void with space ships just checking things out. Their economies could not likely support mass production of star ship (unless they figure how to make Mr. Fusion to power everything). Star ships would have to be fantastically complex machines that aren’t popping off the assembly line at a high rate. It takes years to build one sea going battleship. How long would it take for one star ship? Even during WWII when a number of countries were producing war ships at the fastest rate in history, the thousands produced and put afloat on the vastness of the ocean were no more than insignificant specks. Scale up to a space faring economy that has to cross interstellar distances with let’s say 1,000 ships that don’t have FTL, what’s the likelyhood that they’re going to expend time and resources on some backwater worlds? And then factor in the time scale wherein space faring civilizations could have risen and fallen many times before we figured out fire. The chances of some aliens just dropping in to say “hi!” quickly becomes vanishingly small.

Olaf2 April 6, 2012 at 9:38 PM

First communication will not be intelligent at all.
It will probably be some drunk alien spacetruck driver finding new places to dump the illegal toxic waste.

newSteveZodiac April 7, 2012 at 8:42 AM

Alien contact will probably be as good for us as it was for the native Americans or the polynesian islanders.

Alien April 8, 2012 at 6:05 PM

No. Alien contact would not be as good (I presume that’s a sarcastic ‘good’) as it was for natives of America and polynesia, because the explorers went there in search of resources and routes to get to those resources easily. If that’s the case with visiting aliens, they’d have had plenty of star systems before they reach us. If, on the other hand, they are coming to visit us out of curiosity for another life-supporting planet and another intelligent race, then it would be more mutually rewarding encounter. There are many possibilities, and invading aliens is just one of them.

newSteveZodiac April 9, 2012 at 9:13 AM

I was thinking of culture shock, almost inevitable – even in benign contact.

Alien April 9, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Culture shock, yes. That I agree. I guess it will be more than just culture shock. To start with, it’s hard to say if they’d resemble any living creature we know on Earth.

Robert Thomson April 8, 2012 at 2:54 AM

There is a small possibility and I entertain this often that we are the most advanced intelligence in the Milky Way, I hope I am wrong. I would love to see contact in the next 30 yrs of my life before I die.

Prism2Spectrum April 8, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Planets discovered orbiting in Habitable Zones is an exciting revelation. But, as many know, a lot more is required. A whole complex array of essential, delicate, and finely-balanced conditions to support—and maintain life—would be required:

A suitably stable, life-promoting Star (in life-friendly Galaxy Space). The world itself, of course, would have to have a life-supporting Atmosphere. And some kind of circulating Hydrosphere. A sufficiently stable surface (hulking, nearby moon, for example, would wreak havoc, from its muscular tidal embrace): the lithosphere (of right chemical composition[?] ), and “geological” makeup, interior construction, and surface layout (circulations in many forms are vital, I think). Then, it would have to have a Magnetosphere (not just any M.[?]), to protect its “developing” Biosphere. And, another controversy aside, a life-promoting moon (one, not three, say).

Also, even in a perfectly centered, life-nurturing orbit, would not the geometry of the planetary System itself have to be configured in such a way, as to keep the Planet sufficiently confined, where again, Life can “evolve” over the substantial time necessary, which would-require a relative level of overall stability to afford a “Biosphere” formation, so its undisturbed teeming growth could ascend to a triumphal summit of thought and intelligence–and the right Body to put its Science & Technology to use! And so, send it on its stellar way.

[ I really love the Science Fiction Films that portray super-Advanced Aliens, who have traveled in Star Ships(!), operating their other-world technology--from all the Science they would have had to accomplish(!), that launched them on their star-exploring ways--with tentacle fingers, or claw-like hands (I won't even go into their heads, eyes and faces)! Imagine designing and building a Keck Observatory, or Cassini Spacecraft, with some of the Sci-Fi appendages screened. Then consider the human HAND (and all that goes with it!): measure the difference in mega-parsecs! ]

OK, you have all the settings just right: But the Star-embraced Planet is near a large, dense Nebula, and Earth’s constellation of shining Star is on the other side. Or this life-thriving Alien World is near a bright Star Cluster. Even its Star-Field location may have some import, from a certain familiar direction, anyway.

And we can hope, that a not so distant behemoth, to this awakening world of alien star, does not go Supernova. (Then its “lights out”.)
___________________________

“Throughout history, humans have looked to the skies and thought that we’ve experienced something ‘out there’ – be it angels or gods or spaceships. There is, I believe, a deep human craving that we aren’t alone, and that would be a significant part of our response.”
___________________________________

That souring line made me think of Europe, in reawakening from a grim Dark Age sleep: When a spirit may have arisen from its dawning Enlightenment, and Renaissance resurgence, and that same “human craving” (and more favorable Climate conditions?) was loosed to look longly to the horizons, and begin the journeys to “First Contact”: To boldly go where no Europeans (supposedly, anyway) had gone before, and seek out New Civilizations.

(All questions are rhetorical. Just ONE reader’s view, however flawed)

Herbert April 9, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Long ago I saw this infographic and now i feel prepared to make first contact! http://bit.ly/chsLBU

Dill Weed April 10, 2012 at 12:08 AM

We’d kick their asses, take their technolgy and make them slaves. And if they taste good put them on them menu as intergallatic beef.

Dill Weed April 10, 2012 at 12:08 AM

We’d kick their asses, take their technolgy and make them slaves. And if they taste good put them on them menu as intergallatic beef.

Duncan Ivry April 10, 2012 at 8:07 PM

Nancy, you touched something with your article. Great work! My thanks go to all the participants for their vibrant contributions. That’s what I like so much.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: