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Is anybody out there?

High resolution images presents creating planets of the solar system. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Words: Katie Cutforth

This article was first published in the May/June 2023 issue of IQ, the exclusive magazine for Mensa members. Find out more about becoming a Mensa member here

The question of life beyond Earth made headlines once again [last year] when a mysterious white flying object was spotted at high-altitude over United States airspace. Minds boggled when the US Air Force General Glen VanHerck announced he hadn’t “ruled out anything”, including the possibility that the objects could be evidence of extraterrestrial life.

The balloons were soon identified as originating in China and were shot down by the US Air Force, but the incident sparked fresh debate about the existence of alien life and the implications if we ever were to have an interaction with ET. Although no firm evidence of intelligent life in space has ever been found, many scientists feel it is important to prepare for the very real possibility of discovering that we are not alone in the Universe.

And doing just that is the SETI Post-Detection Hub, which was set up in late 2022 to coordinate an international effort to prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life, creating protocols and procedures for how – or even if – we should respond.

The Post-Detection hub is hosted by the Centre for Exoplanet Science and the Centre for Global Law and Governance of the University of St Andrews. SETI stands for “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” and is a generic term for scientific searches for intelligent extra-terrestrial life.

The SETI Institute, a not-for-profit research group dedicated to investigating life beyond Earth, developed protocols back in 1989 that prepared for a response to alien contact. This has not been updated for over a decade, and generally focused on exclusively scientific concerns. The new hub aims to close the current policy gap by bringing together experts from a broad range of disciplines, across both the sciences and the humanities.

Of course, nobody “speaks” extraterrestrial, so one of the biggest challenges will be to analyse any signals thought to be extraterrestrial in origin for language structures and attach meaning to those structures.

The researchers will also consider responsible science communication in the social media era – the best approaches to disseminating news of confirmed contact with extraterrestrials, without spawning conspiracy theories and misinformation.

“Will we ever get a message from ET? We don’t know,” said Dr John Elliott, who is coordinating the Post-Detection Hub. “We also don’t know when this is going to happen. But we do know that we cannot afford to be ill-prepared – scientifically, socially, and politically.”

Find out more about the work of the SETI Post-Detection Hub

Is anybody out there?

Words: Katie Cutforth

This article was first published in the May/June 2023 issue of IQ, the exclusive magazine for Mensa members. Find out more about becoming a Mensa member here

The question of life beyond Earth made headlines once again [last year] when a mysterious white flying object was spotted at high-altitude over United States airspace. Minds boggled when the US Air Force General Glen VanHerck announced he hadn’t “ruled out anything”, including the possibility that the objects could be evidence of extraterrestrial life.

The balloons were soon identified as originating in China and were shot down by the US Air Force, but the incident sparked fresh debate about the existence of alien life and the implications if we ever were to have an interaction with ET. Although no firm evidence of intelligent life in space has ever been found, many scientists feel it is important to prepare for the very real possibility of discovering that we are not alone in the Universe.

And doing just that is the SETI Post-Detection Hub, which was set up in late 2022 to coordinate an international effort to prepare for the discovery of extraterrestrial life, creating protocols and procedures for how – or even if – we should respond.

The Post-Detection hub is hosted by the Centre for Exoplanet Science and the Centre for Global Law and Governance of the University of St Andrews. SETI stands for “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” and is a generic term for scientific searches for intelligent extra-terrestrial life.

The SETI Institute, a not-for-profit research group dedicated to investigating life beyond Earth, developed protocols back in 1989 that prepared for a response to alien contact. This has not been updated for over a decade, and generally focused on exclusively scientific concerns. The new hub aims to close the current policy gap by bringing together experts from a broad range of disciplines, across both the sciences and the humanities.

Of course, nobody “speaks” extraterrestrial, so one of the biggest challenges will be to analyse any signals thought to be extraterrestrial in origin for language structures and attach meaning to those structures.

The researchers will also consider responsible science communication in the social media era – the best approaches to disseminating news of confirmed contact with extraterrestrials, without spawning conspiracy theories and misinformation.

“Will we ever get a message from ET? We don’t know,” said Dr John Elliott, who is coordinating the Post-Detection Hub. “We also don’t know when this is going to happen. But we do know that we cannot afford to be ill-prepared – scientifically, socially, and politically.”

Find out more about the work of the SETI Post-Detection Hub

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