Talking to Aliens: How Pulsars Helped Form Protocol

Talking to Aliens: How Pulsars Helped Form Protocol


Ever wonder what would happen if aliens made contact with Earth, besides the likely to follow mix of panic and excitement? If things played out right, the world’s governments would follow a protocol before deciding whether or not to respond back, and how.

The steps go like this:

1) International consultations should be initiated to consider the question of sending communications to extraterrestrial civilizations and what kind of message would be sent. The consultations would be open to all interested nations of the world and should end with a consensus over the recommendation.

2) Once the recommendation is made by the world’s nations, the United Nations General Assembly should make the decision whether or not to send the message, and what the content should be.

3) If a decision is made to send a message to extraterrestrial intelligence, it should be sent on behalf of all Humankind, rather than from individual States.

4) The content of such a message should reflect a careful concern for the broad interests and wellbeing of Humanity, and should be made available to the public in advance of transmission.

5) As the sending of a communication to extraterrestrial intelligence could lead to an exchange of communications separated by many years, consideration should be given to a long-term institutional framework for such communications.

6) No communication to extraterrestrial intelligence should be sent by any State until appropriate international consultations have taken place. Countries should not cooperate with attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence that do not conform to the principles of this Declaration.

7) In their deliberations on these questions, States participating in this Declaration and United Nations bodies should draw on the expertise of scientists, scholars, and other persons with relevant knowledge.

It is worth noting that there is no way to guarantee this is the way things would go, as the document behind these steps doesn’t actually carry any real weight when it comes to the law or regulatory power. That means public and private institutions don’t necessarily have to follow it, though ideally we’d all work together during such an event.

Alright, but how did they come up with all of this to begin with? Some of you might already know about the 1967 event when Cambridge astronomers detected a strange radio signal coming from the Vulpecula constellation.

Regular, pulsing signals were beaming across the galaxy, and at the time it was believed that the signals might have come from an artificial source – aka alien life. That’s when things got a bit hairy as there was no protocol for responding to extra-terrestrial contact and plenty of debate about what to do.

Eventually we learned these signals were coming from pulsars – highly magnetized, rotating stars – but nonetheless we learned that some kind of general protocol was needed. Now a new paper titled “ The SETI Episode in the 1967 Discovery of Pulsars” has been released to the public further detailing the discovery and what was evolved.

Although its great to have such a code of conduct for contact in place, do you think that it wouuld actually be strictly followed if and when such alien contact is ever made?

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