METI space messages invite aliens to communicate with Earth

Researchers have undertaken a controversial plan to get aliens to contact humans: sending an invitation out into space. The efforts come from METI, which stands for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and it involved sending messages toward a star system located about 12 light-years from our own. Assuming the messages are received and a reply is sent, we should get it about 25 years from now.

Humans have long written stories about intelligence life elsewhere in the universe, some of it more optimistic than others. Conspiracy theories aside, no other intelligent beings have made contact with humans, but that may change if we continue to actively pursue contact. The METI mission represents the most recent effort in that attempt, but it isn't without its critics.

While it is easy to assume that intelligent life exists somewhere in the vast expanse of the universe, it is hard to guess what that intelligence may look like...not just from a visual standpoint, but also cultural and technological ones. Aliens advanced enough to intercept, decipher, and then reciprocate a message may exceed the advancement of our own species, and in a worst-case scenario, a surprise visit from them could be catastrophic.

That fear aside, the issue has other controversial aspects. Humans around the world have debated about what kind of message should be sent to other intelligent lifeforms, should any of them intercept them; by having a small group dictate the message, it raises potential squabbles between human cultures that disagree with the content being sent out.

Any message sent into space will potentially invite back to Earth intelligent beings, and such an event would impact everyone on the planet. As such, any messages that are sent forth should be determined and agreed upon by the global community at large, not a relatively small roster of scientists.

Still, despite these controversies, the messages were sent out to a red dwarf called GJ273 that has a possibly habitable exoplanet called GJ273b. A future message is planned for the same destination, one informing anyone who intercepts them that human astronomers will be looking for a reply on June 21, 2043.

METI president Douglas Vakock recently discussed the messages in an interview with Newsweek, addressing some of the controversy. Among other things, he stated:

When we're not clear how risky an activity is, we rely on the most vivid images that come to mind to help us decide. Cognitive psychologists call it the availability heuristic. We rely on the images that are most available to us—the vivid ones—and take that as the truth. What could be more vivid than the image of an alien invasion? But once we step back, take a breath, and analyze the situation, we realize there's no added danger of an alien attack if we let them know we're interested in having an interstellar conversation. When people learn more about the project, they'll realize we have nothing to fear.