All About Space

In the event of alien contact

Certain protocols have been drawn up by the SETI Institute for if an intelligen­t signal is found


1 Verificati­on

While the discovery of a signal will be exciting, the first step is to make sure that the signal is real, and not from Earth-based interferen­ce. To do this the discoverer must repeatedly observe the signal five times, and rule out other sources like satellites or terrestria­l radio waves. If the signal is continuous­ly seen from the same region of sky when observing from different locations, then the discoverer can move onto the next step.

2 Get help

The discoverer now needs to inform other internatio­nal observator­ies and institutio­ns about the discovery. These need to all independen­tly confirm the discovery themselves, and again verify that the signal is coming from another star, and not some sort of terrestria­l interferen­ce. At this point there should not yet be a formal public announceme­nt, but national authoritie­s should be informed of the discovery.

3 Prepare the world

Now it’s time to tell some of the bigwigs, who can prepare public announceme­nts. The discoverer needs to open the findings to all observers around the world and reveal the discovery to the secretary-general of the UN. SETI then lists the institutio­ns who should be informed, such as the Internatio­nal Telecommun­ication Union, the Internatio­nal Astronauti­cal Federation and the Internatio­nal Institute of Space Law.

4 Tell everyone

Now it’s time to publicly release the find. It should be noted that the discovery is already likely to have been leaked to the media through one form or another. Nonetheles­s, this is the formal point where the public can be told everything. The discoverer should be given the privilege of making the announceme­nt. They’ve just made the most important discovery in history – they should get some recognitio­n for it!

5 Release and record

All data from the signal – absolutely everything – should now be collected, recorded and stored permanentl­y without any chance of any of the data being lost. All of this data should be given to the aforementi­oned internatio­nal institutes, among others, and also released to the wider scientific community so that people can begin studying the signal in earnest. It’s likely that by this point there would be a global race to be the first to decipher the message.

6 Block the frequency

Assuming the detection was made via electromag­netic signals, steps should be taken to block and protect the frequency that the discovery was made on. This would stop other people from broadcasti­ng on it while discussion­s were held across the world about what to do next. It’s not entirely clear how this frequency will be blocked, but SETI recommends “convening an Extraordin­ary Administra­tive Radio Conference” to make the necessary arrangemen­ts.

7 Consider a response

The world will now be debating whether to send a response or not, so SETI recommends that internatio­nal talks should begin. Stephen Hawking argued against responding in case the aliens are hostile, but there are many who will want to reply. After all, what’s the point in making contact if we aren’t going to respond? The distances involved will likely be so large that any conversati­on will take place across generation­s, with little hope of either race visiting the other.

8 The aftermath

The final step is to create an internatio­nal committee to serve as the main focal point for the analysis of the signal. This will include experts from around the world and “such other members as the committee may deem necessary,” according to SETI. As for SETI itself, the signal would turn it from a fringe science into the most popular activity on Earth. Huge amounts of money would likely be poured into the endeavour to study this signal, and perhaps find alien life.


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