The world’s top alien-hunter reckons we’re screwed if UFOs ever decide to invade the planet.
Seth Shostak says it could cause worldwide chao and we’d only have ourselves to blame for not taking the possibility seriously.
The astronomer at the world famous SETI Institute told the Daily Star: “If they want to come here and flatten Swindon there’s nothing we can do.”
He’s hopeful that one day he might hear a transmission from a distant civilisation, but warns that if there ever were a War of the Worlds, we’d definitely lose.
SETI Institute, a non-profit research organisation in California’s Silicon Valley that scans the skies looking for alien life, achieved worldwide fame when one of its researchers, Jerry R. Ehman, detected a transmission from somewhere near Sagittarius which has since become known worldwide as the Wow! signal.
Seth is now the institute’s Senior Astronomer, and he co-ordinates research that could one day lead to communication with an extraterrestrial civilisation.
Listening, he tells the Daily Star, is not the problem: “There’s no danger in picking up a radio signal, it’s just like tuning into Radio 4.
“If an alien transmission were one day detected it would be a big story, and other people who have [similar] instruments would be checking it out and it would probably lead to exciting new science initiatives. That’s all pretty straightforward.”
However, he says, an actual visit from a distant star system is a “very different thing”.
An alien landing could cause worldwide chaos because neither the UN or any national government is willing to take the possibility seriously.
“If they were to show up in Trafalgar Square,” he says, “as far as I know there’s absolutely no contingency for that.”
He adds that he and his SETI colleagues have been lobbying the UN for years, hoping to persuade them to adopt an international protocol in the event of First Contact with another civilisation.
Then again, he adds, if an advance party from another world were to arrive on Earth there isn’t much we could do.
“Say you’ve got a plan, but it’s like the Carib Indians planning what they’ll do if they see Chris Columbus coming across the horizon.
“He’s going to get into some small boats and come and land on your island,” Seth says, “What are you going to do about that?”
“Bear in mind Any alien travellers that could reach us are very much more advanced technologically than we are.
“Our best rockets would take 100,000 years to get to the next star over let alone to one where there might be some aliens – so the conceit that you see in the movies where we take the invaders on is nonsense.
“If they want to come here and flatten Swindon there’s nothing we can do. The only option you have is maybe to negotiate”.
The accepted wisdom is that any species advanced enough to pull off an Independence Day or War of the Worlds-style invasion could get anything they wanted elsewhere.
“But those ruminations,” Seth says, “Are actually an exercise in trying to divine alien sociology and we don’t know anything about that so who knows what their motive might be
“Given that they would be more likely to be machines than living beings anyway, it’d be hard to gauge what they’d be interested in.”
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Seth believes that any interstellar travellers will have left their biological bodies far behind and the first extraterrestrial entities we meet will be AI-based rather than living beings.
But the good news is that, even if there is a hostile intelligence out there, it’s very unlikely to have even noticed us.
“The only way they could know about homo sapiens, really is by picking up our television or FM radio broadcasts.
“Those signals really only date back as far as the Second World War so they’ve only reached around 75 light years into space.”
Seth explains: “Even if the aliens can get close to the speed of light …which is very very difficult but lets say they can… if they’re more than 35 light years away there hasn’t been enough time for them to get here. Then they can take all our rock & roll without paying for the copyright.”
He says it’s very hard to anticipate why any alien entity – biological or robot – might want to come and visit us.
“Maybe they want to convert us to their religion or just categorise us scientifically. We really you have no idea what might interest them and any guesses you make are going to be guesses.
“You might say maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says, “but it’s very unclear how to be safe.”