Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let's use a Cheat Code!

"Greetings, we've come to spread the
gospel of space Jesus. Also, we'll
take any gold you might have..."
Hey, check it out. Stephen Hawking is backing a new initiative to search for signs of extraterrestrial civilizations and-wait a minute, wasn't he trying to scare the shit out of us about aliens like a couple of years ago? Why yes, yes he was...

"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," 

-Stephen Hawking, on the unspeakable
horrors lurking among the stars

Ok, but now there's a $100 million budget and in fairness the project, awkwardly named Breakthrough Listen, is about searching for alien radio signals and not just broadcasting our presence to a potentially hostile galaxy. Well, not at first. There's also an awkwardly named companion project, Breakthrough Message, which will come up with a message to send to the aliens if we ever find any.
"Attention universe! We're a primitive, defenseless post-industrial
civilization with 7 billion potential slaves for your spice mines, any takers?"
...and then steer clear.
The plan instead is to use two of the largest radio telescopes in the world, the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia and the Parks Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, to scan for extraterrestrial radio emissions. They'll also use the Lick observatory in California which can detect laser transmissions as weak as 100 watts. This will allow the project's astronomers to determine whether or not other civilizations have reached a Coachella-level of development.

You know, like the UN except
but aliens and, you know, effective.
But then what? Once we find aliens, what's the plan? Turns out, we're going to start the Federation:

"We hope to learn if we are alone or if, instead we may join in a large collective of sentient beings with whom to share this universe."

-Geoff Marcy, NASA researcher,
and no really that's the paln

Pictured: June 2020.
(source: my questionable math skills)
Sure, it might sound overly optimistic to go from zero to space UN right away, but it's not a bad idea. Assuming we find aliens and further assuming that they're more advanced than we are and that we somehow manage to attract their attention, we could probably use their help. Like, in a big way. Did you read this? Temperatures this June were .22 degrees hotter than last June. That might not sound like much, but a quarter of a degree every year adds up pretty quick.

I'm not suggesting that people like Ted
Cruz are contributing to our extinction
I'm just suggesting that...uh...<cough>
Ever hear of the Fermi Paradox? It asks why if there really are other millions of planets capable of supporting life, as we think there are, then how come we haven't met any aliens? One possible answer is the 'Great Filter.' It's the idea that there is some step in development that civilizations can't get past without annihilating themselves. Maybe it's war or disease or runaway climate change which the aliens could have done something about if the stupid idiots on their planet would just shut up and accept the preponderance of scientific evidence.

Goddamn, were they trying
to give us aneurysms?
So did you ever read Nintendo Power magazine? Hang on, I'm going somewhere with this. Before strategy guides and online walkthroughs, Nintendo had a phone number you could call to ask someone how to get past a really difficult level in a video game. The Great Filter is kind of like Deborah Cliff in Castlevania 2. There was no hint, no clue in the game that even came remotely close to explaining what the hell we were supposed to do. Somehow Konami just expected us to guess that if we equipped the white crystal and knelt at some random dead end that a tornado would take us to the next level. I mean, what the shit?

Look, I'm not saying that we should bank on helpful aliens warping into orbit above our planet with a cargo hold full of Rhode Island-sized air conditioners, but given the rate at which the Great Filter seems to be bearing down on us, $100 million and some time on the telescope doesn't seem so ludicrous. 
"Hello? Zeta Reticula? It's Earth and we're stuck on the part where our
climate is spiraling out of control and we're maybe twenty years away from
food wars and Thunderdomes. Is there like a cheat code or something?"

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