Credit: AJ Duncan

The search for extraterrestrial life may be well known, but the response is not

By Ross McCool

As the search for extraterrestrial life continues, Ross McCool examines the possible outcomes of alien contact.

For as long as we have looked to the skies, we have questioned what lays beyond. Nasa has long-held discussions with experts to discuss strategies for the ongoing search for life. In 2014, Michael Merrifield, professor of astrophysics at the University of Nottingham, spoke with BBC 5 Live Breakfast and stated that we could make contact within “the next 10 to 20 years”. Six years in, and with little luck, we continue to speculate what may happen after we make contact. 

As a disclaimer, this article is written under the assumption that there is alien life out in the universe, and they have the technology to receive our communications. My apologies to our future alien-overlords if I get any of these predictions incorrect. 

Here are some of the main theories of what would happen if we got in contact with extraterrestrials:

I know that this may be disappointing with the trainwreck that is 2020, but finding alien life may not have a positive result. Imagine this: after establishing contact, we invite aliens to Earth for a chat and a cuppa. They land but are not so friendly, creating war and destruction on a biblical scale. We would be sitting ducks. This may appear to be far-fetched and belong in a Michael Bay triple-A blockbuster where explosions are common and well-written female characters are less so. However, if a species can receive one of our messages, understand it to a basic level and then proceed to travel thousands of lightyears to Earth, we can only assume that they are using more than longbows to solve disputes back home. 

When asked about this issue, Professor Stephen Hawking said that we should stop trying to contact aliens before it was too late. This assumes that aliens have less than positive intentions for us, but even if they come in peace, there still might be dangers to humanity. For anyone that knows H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, they will be able to tell you that (spoiler alert) the common cold killed the aliens. An organism that we had evolved to become tolerant against killed off the aliens and the same could happen to us. All it takes is one alien to feel under-the-weather and boom – it’s the end of humanity. 

Humans have always feared the unknown and we will continue to do so. We are but anxious animals on this little rock. 

But let us be a little more optimistic! Aliens could be reaching out looking for other forms of life and are glad to meet us. We may meet our long-lost intergalactic brothers and sisters and get talking. We could teach aliens the joys of ice cream and tell them that we hold this big sporting event every four years called the Olympics and in exchange, the aliens may explain quantum physics. We could do more traditional human activities such as camping or trust-building exercises as the aliens teach us how to build an unbelievable spacecraft. The possibilities for the good that could come out of successful and peaceful interaction with an alien race challenges not only what is currently possible but also what we think is achievable.

What remains after the options of destruction and prosperity is a result that would challenge any Hollywood blockbuster. We discover and contact aliens, but they are not that interested in us. This would be ghosting taken to a whole new level. We are so incredibly selfish when we discuss aliens. The rhetoric that surrounds this conversation only highlights that they will be friendly or not so much with us, and we neglect the fact that aliens might not want to know us. We may not be advanced enough for them or they could take one look at humans committing selfish, violent, and self-destructive actions on Earth and deem us unworthy. The problem with most Hollywood depictions of alien interaction is that they paint us as the victim and the victim only. 

We never stop to ask ourselves, would the aliens want to know us? 

We may remain uncertain about how long it is before we contact aliens, but what remains clear is that we will continue to speculate about them.


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