Of Aliens, Transmissions, and Violins.
So, we found a new planet 600 light years away, one of 713 confirmed exoplanets discovered so far—Kepler-22b. It’s more than twice the size of Earth, takes 290 days to orbit its sun, and it sits in the Goldilocks zone—not too close to its parent star, and not too far away. This means that if there is water on the planet’s surface, it’s in liquid form. On Earth, where there’s water, even in extreme conditions, there’s usually life.
Soon, SETI will be pointing their satellites in the direction of Kepler-22b to listen for signs of life.
A plethora of assumptions: Assuming there is life on that planet, and assuming this life is more advanced than our own, and assuming they transmitted radio signals at least six hundred years ago, we should be receiving their first transmissions any day now.
I wonder what those transmissions would be? Perhaps a short question: “Is anyone out there?” Maybe someone ranting about their political climate, or about religious and civic strife, or about a massive economic crisis. Maybe a TV show. Maybe a bad TV show. Maybe a reality TV show. I hate to think what an alien species would think of Earthlings if all they had to judge us on was Survivor.
The first Earthly radio broadcast was on Christmas Eve in 1906. Reginald Fessenden read the Christmas story from the Bible and played “O Holy Night” with on a violin. This means in roughly 500 years, our potential alien friends will be serenaded by a violin and the story of Jesus’ birth.
A bit unsettling. One of the greatest scientific accomplishments at the time, accompanied by a song calling for all to prostrate themselves before a child born of a virgin. At the very least, our alien friends will be confused, perhaps a bit curious. “Who is this Jesus, this Savior?” they might ask. “Is he your leader? Can we speak with him?”
Plenty of Earthlings would tell them who their “savior” is. Many of those answers will contradict. Arguing will ensue. Fights will break out. Perhaps another war. While we are battling for ideas, our alien friends will quietly point their own SETI satellites in another direction. “Give them a few more centuries,” an alien astronomer might say, “just until they stop arguing over whose god is greater.”
Of course, all of this is also assuming aliens from another planet can understand English in the first place—which is a pretty big assumption (and very arrogant for us to think so).
What would be worse is if their own religions, ethics, and philosophies mirrored our own. In the words of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “If aliens are like us, then they should be feared.”
Indeed. But if we did hear from Kepler-22b, what would we want to hear?