Up Front 08/15

No doubt the biggest news for UFO watchers lately has been the story that Stephen Hawking has added his name to an initiative to invest $100 million to reinvigorate the search for life in the universe. On the anniversary of the moon landing, nearly thirty of the world’s most eminent scientists signed a letter entitled ‘Are We Alone?’ The letter points out that today we have search tools far surpassing those of previous generations. Telescopes can pick out planets across thousands of light years and computers can now sift data infinitely faster than older mainframes. The project actually takes the form of two initiatives: ‘Breakthrough Listen’, which will be the most powerful, comprehensive and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth; and ‘Breakthrough Message’, which will fund an international competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth. One of the project leaders, Ann Druyan, explained that the ‘Breakthrough Message’ competition is designed to spark the imaginations of millions, and to generate conversation about who we really are in the universe and what it is that we wish to share about the nature of being alive on Earth. ‘Even if we don’t send a single message’ she says, ‘the act of conceptualizing one can be transformative.’ It is an interesting exercise and it will be fascinating to see what messages people will want to send. It seems to be only a matter of time before we find intelligent life on another planet but the question isn’t how will we deal with it, it’s how will they deal with us? There will certainly be dozens of examples of messages it might be best not to send. For example let’s not tell them that Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, the one that he wore when man first landed on the moon 46 years ago, is the subject of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The museum that holds it doesn’t have the funds to keep the spacesuit in an environment that will stop it from disintegrating, whilst on the other hand, annual Global military expenditure currently stands at over $1.7 trillion. A planet receiving that sort of message might be tempted to just switch the lights off and pretend there’s nobody home.