On October 10 the European Space Agency (ESA) sent a message to the stars, ignoring dire warnings from science fiction writers and scientists including Stephen Hawking.
ESA Operations tweeted:
Our #Cebreros deep-space tracking station pointed at the #NorthStar & transmitting an interstellar #MessageinABottle
And soon after:
END OF TRANSMISSION ESA confirms #MessageInABottle SENT #ASimpleResponse via #Cebreros Station, Spain
Interstellar Message in a Bottle
“A Simple Response to an Elemental Message,” a crowdsourced interstellar radio “message in a bottle,” has been transmitted into deep space via the European Space Agency’s deep-space tracking station at Cebreros, Spain, and is now en route to the North Pole Star.
The message was composed by persons from all over the planet, who contributed their own answers to the question:
How will our present environmental interactions shape the future?
The project, developed by the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the European Space Agency and the University of Edinburgh, along with researchers at the Johns Hopkins University and the European Southern Observatory, issued a call for participation in July:
“By submitting text contributions from across the globe for this interstellar time capsule, participants will be contributing to ongoing dialogue concerning how our civilisation collectively perceives its role within shaping the future of the environment and establish a means by which we may collectively analyse these perspectives for cross-cultural universals within this single, global human community.”
The question “How will our present environmental interactions shape the future? may sound unclear, but is related to global warming and environmental preservation (the first comment to the call for participation was “How politically correct…”). Project coordinator Paul Quast, an Irish contemporary artist, independent researcher and citizen scientist who lives and works in Edinburgh, Scotland, explains that, with our capabilities rivaling nature’s own sculpting forces, our continued survival is “crucially dependent upon how we fundamentally interact with our collective environment.” Quast’s conclusion, and rationale for the project, is:
“Whilst this projects response transmission propagates out towards our North Star for centuries what will happen on ‘the only home we have ever known’ (Sagan, 1994)? Will this transmitted content simply exist as an archaeological account of how our civilisations’ zeitgeist perceiving its own challenges; a lost, interstellar message in a bottle indicative to the sentient life which conceived it or will its creators continue to take responsibility to look past the decisions made by our ancestors and to stop sculpting the bottleneck of tomorrow during this critical time.”
The Dark Forest: Dire Warnings of Impending Doom
The universe could be full of super-advanced aliens, perhaps post-biological civilizations extremely smarter than us. If so, sending messages in a bottle could be dangerous, and we should instead try to avoid being detected by the big boys.
Stephen Hawking warned that, rather than actively trying to communicate with extra-terrestrials, humans should do everything possible to avoid contact. “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” he said. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
Chinese writer Liu Cixin, the author of the award-winning science fiction trilogy “Remembrance of Earth’s Past,” has described the “Dark Forest” scenario: interstellar civilizations destroy other worlds inhabited by intelligent life as soon as they become aware of their existence, because that’s the only rational behavior.
“The Dark Forest” is the title of the second book n the trilogy, started with “The Three-Body Problem” and recently concluded with the publication of “Death’s End.” In the last book of the trilogy, very popular in China and now available in English, the Earth is destroyed by a Dark Forest attack launched by a super-civilization able to weaponize the very structure of space-time.
Images from Paul Quast, A Simple Response to an Elemental Message, ESA, and Tor Books.