Problems With Radio SETI so Zubrin Proposes Engineered Bacteria for Interstellar DNA Messaging

Robert Zubrin points out the problems with the radio SETI program.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a 100-watt transmitter using a 2-meter dish and we use a 70-meter dish to receive data at 6 megabits per second at 100 million kilometers.

A ten-light year transmission would be one trillion times slower at 200 bits per year. If the power of the transmission was 100 megawatts then we could increase the data rate to 6 bits per second. If aliens were transmitting then they would need to target many possible worlds.

Nextbigfuture would note that optical imaging of exoplanets and receiving of radio transmissions would all be enhanced with telescopes and receivers at the gravitational lensing points. Power levels would be reduced for the radio receiving because the sun would be acting as a 800,000-kilometer focusing dish. It would also be less random in terms of targeting because exoplanets could be imaged at gigapixel levels.

Zubrin Proposes Microsail Craft to Spread Engineered Bacteria for DNA Interstellar Messaging

Zubrin proposes tiny microsails shaped like badminton birdies for passive stability. They have a thin layer of material to protect DNA in bacteria from ultraviolet. The ultraviolet is why naked panspermia will not work. Another deisng

They would be propelled at 30 kilometers per second. It would take 100,000 years to 10 light-years.

The design would hit an atmosphere and decelerate without heating.

The messages would most likely be propoganda to encourage aliens to be like the sending aliens.

Natural Panspermia

There are close passes of less than one half of a light-year with other solar systems every 20 million years. There is an exchange of Oort comet cloud material during those events. There is also an interesting fact that mass extinctions also occur every 20 million years.

Our bacteria is in our Oort comet cloud.

There have been about 180 close passes since the appearance of life on Earth.

Looking for DNA Messages

SOURCES- Robert Zubrin
Written By Brian Wang,

40 thoughts on “Problems With Radio SETI so Zubrin Proposes Engineered Bacteria for Interstellar DNA Messaging”

  1. If letting “them” know we exist is the point, what about that good old-fashioned plan of seriously nuking a nearby star? Stars that don’t go nova can’t fuse elements beyond iron, having plutonium in the spectrum would be a sure way to signal an intelligent civilization. It’d be hard to do so on a G-type star like ours, but besides this difficulty, it’d still be convenient to get “their” attention to another star, just in case they happen not to be the frendliest neighbors… But we should have some sort of observational outpost in such star.

  2. Yes, anyone bringing fourth such a theory would need a lot of support.

    Until then, some discourse on the local flavors: religious anti‐rationalism, populist anti‐elitism, and unreflective instrumentalism.

    doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.1991.tb00172.x

    …Each of these critics expresses, from one perspective or another, an un-easy sense that the quality of intellect in the United States is being degraded by cultural forces inimical to it. Explicitly or not, each acknowledges the presence of powerful anti-intellectual forces in American culture…

    In the rural U.S., anti-intellectualism is an essential feature of the religious culture of Christian fundamentalism. Some Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have directly published their collective support for political action to counter climate change, whereas Southern Baptists and Evangelicals have denounced belief in both evolution and climate change as a sin, and have dismissed scientists as intellectuals attempting to create “Neo-nature paganism”. People of fundamentalist religious belief tend to report not seeing evidence of global warming.

    Consult the wiki on Anti-intellectualism, it mentions some foreign & historical flavors.

  3. Agreed. I think the biggest new idea would be interchangeable parts. But they may have difficulty implementing that. Using screws as fasteners (and their heads, as you point out) would also be new and very useful – and easier to implement.

    Overall, very good analysis. I just wanted to point out a few possible inaccuracies.

  4. They did have 12-hour clocks – – and a watch looks a lot like a sundial. I just found out they even had portable sundials. So I think a clock would be one of the first explanations they would come up with, even if it didn’t move and they couldn’t open it.

    They would be puzzled as to “Why does this little sundial not have a gnomon? It’s covered in glass, so doesn’t look like it had one. And what are these little arrow-like bits coming out of the center?” Eventually they might come up with the theory that the arrows replace the role of a shadow. But what makes them move? And why are there more than one?

    If they could open it, I think they’d be able to understand the mechanical parts. I agree they won’t know the correct speed without seeing it move. But even then, combined with the concept of a 12 hour clock, which they already had, it could inspire them to try building mechanical clocks using similar mechanisms.

    In principle, they should be able to reproduce the mechanical parts from brass or similar metals they had at hand – given the right tools (just hand tools and simple machine tools like a lathe – this doesn’t require an industrial revolution). But as I wrote, it could take them a while to develop such tools. Still, driven by the idea, they may well try, and that alone could already teach them a lot. As a starting point, they could at least reproduce the mechanism at a larger scale.

  5. I was trying to depict that the cavemen WERE able to replicate some of the tech. They couldn’t begin to replicate a pneumatic tyre shod, sprung suspension, wheel (without seeing it in use it was just one more baffling object of a weird shape) but they COULD

    • Copy the idea of a helmet
    • Copy the idea of shaping skins into clothing so it fit the body and didn’t fall off.
    • Copy the idea of shoes and gloves. It would be replicated in leather and plant fibre, but still work.
    • Copy the idea of sewing.
    • At least try to copy the idea of weaving using threads to produce cloth
    • Get the idea that metals are useful. There are, in some locations, native metal to be found in nature, especially gold, silver, sometimes copper, and occasionally iron (meteorites).
  6. I agree that if the watch was working still, then a Roman would grasp the basic point fairly quickly. Otherwise not unless it was

    1. Mechanical
    2. They managed to get it open.

    I’m not confident they could replicate a modern mechanical watch. They might learn some things however.

    Even if they did see the mechanics, they’d probably work out it moved the hands. Still, without working, what speed do they move at? It counts to XII. Twelve? Months? Hours? The fact that counting in base 12 wasn’t unknown at the time would probably confuse matters even worse.

  7. Any theory of ignorance and intellectualism that only applies to the USA while ignoring near identical behaviour in a range of other countries needs a lot of justification.

  8. Romans knew what a screw was (Archimedes did for a start) but the idea of

    1. Mass producing identical ones and using them for fasteners
    2. Having heads designed to be turned by a simple hand tool

    Would both be new.

    I’ve tried to find the elements that could be

    • Found in a crashed jet
    • Were close enough to exisiting tech, or even a new application of existing tech, that a bright educated group could grasp it.
    • Doesn’t require manufacturing tech they don’t have a chance at.

    Also the Romans absolutely knew the difference between iron and steel. They imported special wootz steel from India for high quality blades. The difference between base iron and heat treated steel was referred to in the Odyssey, let alone Roman times.

    You are right about the ball bearings, wiki says the oldest known examples are Roman from 40BC

  9. But, we pay and still end up with a bunch of ignoramuses barking at the moon. Ignorance as a desired virtue is a crying shame, free University can’t cure that, only attrition can.

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.

  10. screw the goodwill and peace message from humanity….if you are going to go to that much trouble to send DNA to an ecoplanet… at least send human seed DNA..To seed human life on the planet…sshhhsh people…

  11. I’m not so sure. The role of the state as investor in common goods remains an attractive one, even if you are economically liberal and favor lean-state politics.

    These common goods could be tangible (public roads, lightning, law enforcement) or intangible (public education), but it’s damn hard to argue they aren’t useful, and hard to imagine someone paying for them for the common good in the private sector.

    IMO, the state should represent the minimum common framework for social interaction and responsibility, with citizen duties as small as possible and rights as big as possible.

    Because there is a point where public behavior and society break down if there is not enough law enforcement and infrastructure. Even if most people are law abiding, the few that aren’t would turn life a hell for the rest, if there wasn’t that part of the state that stops them, by force if necessary. Or if they lack some bare necessities of life that can be had with the machinery of a state. Things simply work better if there are some basic parts of society provided and ensured by the public sphere.

    Same for personal rights and freedoms. They end where other people’s begin. And you need someone to make sure they do and infractions are stopped.

  12. I’m not so sure about the underlying premise — that eventually we’ll stop paying for lunatic balderdash. Well, if we expound on “eventually”, then yah, it’ll come to pass. 

    The expounding I propose is an unplannable socio-economic paroxysm. The world (not really, but certainly a good fraction of it) edged toward the existential paroxysm thru and after WW2. 

    Both Occidental and Oriental spheres of geopolitical influence are again at loggerheads it seems, over the respective autochthonous roles in determining the Future of Mankind. An interesting loggerhead it is.

    However, your final phrase plucked a tightly wound string lad: “and university will be limited to people who are actually learning something [of utility]”. 

    I feel rather strongly that this ins’t just a passable idea, but very probably an ideal that we tried once to embrace, and somehow have deprecated. 

    Consider ‘public school’: why do we pay for it? Why isn’t that burden placed squarely on the children’s parents, whole and unsubsidized by the state? 

    Because the most progressive philosophers before us came to realize that a competently educated public would be WAY more prosperous, stable, productive and inventive — to the mutual benefit of all — than a bunch of ignoramuses. So we invest in PE. Why not for University, completely? Seems the same philosophies-of-common-good apply.  Right?

    Just asking,
    GoatGuy ✓

  13. That was FUN! Loved it. 

    Now, I was in error regarding Asimov and Sagan, and undoubtedly I should get the citation right to “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic” (Clarke, right?) but I think your many-part comment points to just that. 

    To Thag, the dead spaceman is a magical human, or a god. Her (the spacer’s) clothing, craft, bits and pieces are inscrutable and only accessible in “how might we use this, and find more” sense. To Latonius, well … less magical. 

    The Romans definitely had a “technological age” of sorts; they had machines, manufacturing processes, and weren’t living in caves. They made rock, concrete. And made iron and steels. They made pottery, paint, bricks and mortar. They made tools, glassware, chariots and more. So, the spacer’s apparel would have been outlandish, but not all that magical. 

    Good reading, bud.
    GoatGuy ✓

  14. It is an interesting perspective: to contemplate whether our present seemingly unshakeable “endgame of Physics” is perhaps only such because we haven’t embraced a particularly powerful branch of mathematics as actually being central to what will lead to the REAL unified theory of everything. 

    Being in computer science for some time, I was introduced to quaternions a few decades back as part of an effort to refine and reduce the computational complexity of a 3 dimensional graphics library. (Q’s figure big in the computational rotation of 3-D objects.) Octonions seem to have arisen directly from the same abstraction theories that invented (realized?) Q’s from the complex [‘i’] plane. 

    And just as O’s rose from Q’s, so have S’s (sedenions) arisen from O’s. The sedenions tho’ don’t have anywhere near the associative and commutative tie-back to functions of projective utility that the O’s barely manage (only 480 tessellation’s) and the Q’s easily manage. 

    Still, that’s just rote math. It’d be interesting to see the Standard Model addressed in 8 dimension octonion space. It takes “a special genius” to wrap one’s head around it tho.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  15. “The messages would most likely be propoganda to encourage aliens to be like the sending aliens.”

    See the novel “Existence” by David Brin. That is part of the plot, though Brin puts in a *lot* of interesting twists on the idea.

  16. Thank you for your answer GG, I always read with pleasure your comments on this blog.

    You are right regarding our knowledge inherited form the last 150 years of Physics, and it’s amazing what we’ve already discoverd. Will it stop to the Standard Model? What will be the Model in 150 years from now?

    I donno 🙂

    However, I read an interesting article on Nautilus ( Chaos Makes the Multiverse Unnecessary) where the writer made a point regarding the relation between real numbers and complex numbers:
    “Rather than looking at the real numbers as central and the octonions as strange larger number systems, think of the octonions as fundamental and all the other number systems as just special subsets of octonions”

    Could it be the same for our “Standard Model”, could this model be just a specific configuration or local subset of o much vaster *reality*?

    Just asking,
    Lord Acesco

  17. Romans would also know what a screw is, but would have never seen a metal screw before. If they can figure out how to make the watch parts they’d figure out how to make screws. Actually, screws are simpler. But likely they’d only be able to make brass screws, as they may not have the materials to grind iron with that level of detail.

    I think they wouldn’t have a word for “steel” (neither would cavemen for “chariots” and some other terms you used). They would more likely call it “some strange iron”.

    They would also know about bearings, but wouldn’t have seen them made of the same materials, or used in the same way. They may have trouble reproducing the same precision. But here too – if they can figure out the watch, that may give them new tools for making better bearings.

  18. 12-hour clock predates Rome, so they would understand what a watch is. If it’s mechanical, they’d be able to figure out the mechanism, and should be able to replicate it (if they manage to open it without breaking or spilling all the parts). But it could take them a while to develop the right tools. The knowledge and tools from watch-making would carry over to other applications.

    They likely wouldn’t understand how a quartz crystal works, but they could replace it by something else. They wouldn’t know about coil springs, but they could understand one if they saw one.

    edit: Their understanding of the 12 hour clock was a little different than ours though. So studying a watch could also give them new ideas on time measurement. It would make measuring time at night easier, might give them the idea of a 24-hour clock, and could teach them the concept of seconds if the watch had a seconds hand.

    And with that, if they can learn learn to make precise enough clocks, they could learn to navigate further off-shore. Potentially that would allow them to settle much further than the mediterranean. Accurate clocks could also advance their understanding of physics.

  19. Eventually we will stop paying for lunatic fantasies. The voters will demand that the Olympic games no longer receive any public funds. That all public schools be sold to the churches. That Public transport be rightfully classified as akin to Public Toilets (for emergency use only). And University courses will be limited to people who pay, or who are actually learning something.

  20. The dead man had a small packet that was multiple thin sheets of papyrus. Well not papyrus but similar. The sheets were stuck together on one edge so you could read both sides and then read the next one without needed to unscroll anything. An ingenious way to package a book. He had a stick in the book and it was clear he was using it to write, but without the need to dip in ink. The ink is stored inside.

  21. The parts are joined together by other parts. They are like nails but you don’t have to hammer them into place or bend them to remain fast. Instead they twist into place. They have special features to allow you to turn them with the right tool. Stupidus Maximus spent a day working out how to do it and made such a tool, it was very simple. Once again, they are all exactly the same.
    The outer skin of this craft is made from finely beaten sheet metal, but not one we know. It’s strong and silver coloured like iron but shows no rust. And it’s so light! 
    There are tanks of some sort of light oil. It leads to hollow cylinders on each wing (for this looks like a giant bird) and inside the cylinder is signs of fire, especially the one that hit a tree when falling down. This must be fuel like for a lamp.
    There are wheels! It came from the sky but there are wheels.
    The wheels are mounted on flexible steel coils. Our chariot maker says that this would allow a heavy chariot or cart to be as smooth over rough roads as the lightweight flexible greek style.
    But he says the wheels are something else entirely! They have something like a circular inflated bladder around the rim that would revolutionise transport. He’s trying to make one out of leather. Hippo skin might be tough enough.
    He also said the axles were spinning on balls within the axles? I don’t know but when you spin the wheel it keeps spinning as though a spirit was turning it unseen,

  22. Roman

    Clothes, yeah we know about that… though this weave is very fine, these stitching styles are new… and this closure with the many interlocking teeth is bizarre.
    The little metal clasp joining the belt around his waist is new but seems simple enough. There is another one of yet another design joining the bracelet around his left wrist. The left wrist bracelet has a large charm with a flat glass top on it… and the numbers I to XII written in a circle. Meaning unknown, probably religious.
    Look at how huge, clear and strong the glass parts are. I wonder if we’ve even tried to do that?
    Ah… this is interesting, there are SO MANY different pipes making up some incredibly complex system in the parts away from the dead man. 
    My cousin has many skilled plumbing slaves, they were amazed at the piping. There were many joins they’ve never seen before, many valves. But they don’t seem to have a way to turn the valves on and off, instead there are wires leading to each valve, but no way to pull the wires. And pulling the wires doesn’t work anyway,
    The internal design of the valves is often brilliant however.
    All the parts are so fine. As fine as the finest work by a master goldsmith. And so many parts are the same. Not just the same design, but you can hold them in your hands and not tell the difference. Aureous, the gold smith, swapped two parts into two different positions and they fit perfectly. He says that if we could do that it would help manufacturing no end.

  23. … continues

    He has like an extra skin on his hands. They fit on my hands. Hey, this is warm and comfortable. And now I can pick up coals from the fire and thrown them directly at Bobo over there! I bet I could make a smaller pair for Bobo using the string joining method, maybe she will talk to me again?
    These parts of his coverings are joined with flat bits of bone or something that slide through holes in the matching covering flap. I could do that too!
    This other bit is joined by a whole row of teeth that latch and unlatch as this slider moves along. I have no idea how to do that.

    As you can see, I imagine that the clothes would be the easiest to understand and use.

    Roman in part II

  24. … continued

    Oh! This guy is dead. He is covered in all sorts of stuff:
    He is wearing a hard hat covering his whole head. You can see he smashed into this thing here, but his head isn’t smashed, the hard hat protected him. He’s still dead because this broken bit went through his chest, but his head is OK. I would like a hard hat like that next time I get into a fight with Thag.
    He was wearing something like skins wrapped around him, but they were shaped to fit him neatly, not just wrapped around. When Thag took it and wore it he looked stupid, but he could move very quickly without having to hold on to the skins like normal. He could move in the winter snow like it was summer (literally “naked time”)
    These skins aren’t skin at all, they are made of like very thin strands of hair. They are woven together just like making a basket, but much much smaller. I wonder if we could do that?
    And then the sheets are joined together by using more of the thin hairs to sort of tie them together. The hair goes through holes in one piece, then a hole in another, then back to the first bit. Back and forth all the way along the join. I will try this to fix my favourite hide that Thag tore a hole in.
    He has things on his feet. They have a bottom to walk on like dried leather. This would let him walk on all sorts of things without being hurt. I’ll take these, but I bet I could make one out of leather or woven fibres.

  25. I once sat down and tried (I was bored) to work out just what a group of intelligent people in the past would be able to learn from a crashed jet fighter (I did Romans and Cavemen) 
    This was to get some idea about what an crashed, wrecked, dead alien spaceship might give us.

    To start with, none of them learn anything about how to make a jet fighter

    This is made of something like rock, but also stretched to be used like skin. You can sometimes find shiny yellow and shiny brown/green rocks that feel like this stuff. It squashes when Thag hit it with a rock. Well you can somehow smash it out flat to huge sheets and make stuff from it.
    There are many small bits of that bendable rock stuff along where the god-chariot hit the ground. These are SO USEFUL to use as weapons and tools. Keep an eye out to see if there is any more material like this around.
    This bit is like rock but you can see through it? Sometimes you can get light shining through very thin sheets of dried skin. If you made it thinner and stretched it maybe you could get it like this?
    There were hard bladders of what looks like fat dripping from cooking meat, but smells far worse. When the chariot came down much of the molten fat (but it does not get hard in the cold) burned in a huge flame. I wonder if we could use fat to burn?

  26. There are so many things in space that must be done yesterday, must be a priority today, and must be in place tomorrow. Simple things, you know, such as space materials, space power, space construction, all the prerequisites for space anything. And yet those professional clowns keep talking governments and sponsors into diverting billions into lunatic fantasies — successfully. State-sponsored space agencies have done nothing of the above, but they are looking for life in every crack they can think of. As that clown wants public funding for his fantasies, he wants to divert funds from public needs in space into his space fantasies. That should be a crime, not a youtube video.

  27. Dunno… the last 150 years of Physics has informed us that there are 4 fields (gravitation, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear), that gravitation requires moving great masses around, that strong nuclear is bound within the nucleus, that weak nuclear is unified at absurdly high energies to the electroweak field, and that only the EM field is something we control in ways allowing its use for communications to power transmission and lighting.

    Which is in its way kind of depressing. 

    This also powers “Is Einstein finally going to be proven wrong? Is there New Physics involved? Will the textbooks need rewriting? Read this article and see!!!” popular discourse. That the so-called “Standard Model” of physics has really become quite complete, quite predictive, quite limiting as to how the 4 forces can be ‘modulated and controlled’ to effect communication. 


    I think ALL astrophysical entities are limited by ‘c’ the speed of light.  

    I think electromagnetic comm is about the only method in SHORT (i.e. human lifetime) time-scales to use.

    But the good news is that this universal limitation — as I propose to accept it to be — would also be the same limitation for all extraterrestrial entities. Which in turn protects us from readily being detected even as we’re getting smarter and smarter. And vice versa.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  28. As always, a delight to read. And sheepishly, Sagan, not Asimov. As soon as I glanced at your comment, I hit my forehead with my hand and said “Doh!”.  I knew that.

    Yah, the amusing interpretation of the modern era from Archimedes or Plato or any of our Greco-Roman smarties happening upon a single volume of an encyclopedia, perhaps helpfully in their own language ‘modernized’ of course … with lots of pictures … 

    Heck, even the pictures-in-color on thin, uniform paper, trimmed to exact squareness, with inscrutable methods of bookbinding, page numbering (who thought of that?), of indexes, and tables of contents, of lettering absolutely perfectly formed, with different fonts, letter weights, perfect kerning and justified left-AND-right edges … would have blown their minds. Completely.  

    There is little doubt either that they WOULD figure out how to translate the text back to their own language. The book would have been enshrined. Scribes would copy parts exactly, and philosophers would argue to blôody fisticuffs over what passages might mean. But with a thousand pages, on all nature of subjects, and maybe only for topics starting with ‘S’… They would also realize that from wherever the miracle came, the authors had 100× or more that wasn’t revealed.

    Good Sci Fi topic!
    GoatGuy ✓

  29. Contact the movie was not based on something written by Asimov, it was a novel written by Carl Sagan.

    Meanwhile, I agree that listening is extremely unlikely to be dangerous. It’s far more likely that we would be damaged by not listening.

    • Getting warning of something that will be dangerous is rarely better than remaining in ignorance
    • Listening is likely to provide vast amounts of new scientific and technical knowledge even if there is no deliberate attempt to educate.

    Assuming we can understand at all, the mere discussion of certain subjects gives up a big flashing sign saying “look here your primitive cave men”. Eg. An actual caveman, or let’s say… Archimedes, who overhears scraps of modern media (somehow) would (if he can understand it all, maybe he saw an illustrated magazine that fell through time)… anyway, he’d see that:

    • these really advanced people seem really interested in mineral oil, in carts and ships that move by themselves, somehow the subjects are connected.
    • They are also going on and on about “germs” that cause illness. But they aren’t treating them like gods. They are trying to kill them? They sometimes celebrate that they have found a way to kill a certain type. Disease is caused by something that can be killed…
    • They fly? They have ships that can fly? It’s possible to make a ship fly but you need that oil.
    • There are a group of things called Pokemon that fight?
    • Coal? That black burning rock? They argue about that a lot.
  30. Actually our means of communications and language may look to an advanced civilisation or entities like biochemical signals exchanged by fruit flies. I gradually tend to consider electromagnetic fields as being the waste byproduct of a deeper process, that our jailed brains are mostly unable to process / represent. If so, we might not be able to perceive more than 90 % of what’s *really* going on *out there*. I suspect that advanced species do process such signals, using therefore a language which by itself is no longer bounded by spacetime ( terms such as “scale”, “distance” or “now” would become irrelevant ). It would be really a miracle if SETI finds anything one day. No because there’s nothing out there; rather because their language, concepts, *emotions* and even *shape* are unintelligible to us, not to mention the vectors. However, I remain optimist regarding our potential, despite the fact that the learning curve is rather ambitious.

  31. Why are the rabbits on this world so obsessed with broadcasting our location to any wolves out there? Our best minds — examples. S. Hawkings. E. Musk., R. Kurzweil etc. —all say it’s a very bad idea.
    And others say just receiving the signals can do no harm. Yet, we know from our own technology that we can tell when people are receiving our cable signals, cell phone signals etc, and our technology is still very young. An advanced enough technology can probably tell when we are just looking at them with regular telescopes.

  32. It may be the “iron law of logistics”, but here’s another: ANY culture capable of traversing the distance-between-the-stars at any significant fraction of the speed of light, could wield more firepower from kinetic energy alone, than Humanity with all its bombs, missiles and dinosaur-juice fueled aircraft could muster, anytime soon. 

    We tend to come to believe the Avenger (as for example) Marvel Comics view of Humanity’s Science-Fiction interaction with space invaders. Ham-handed Mankind tends to win. 

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  33. “Monumentally stupid” is exactly right. 

    Listening to the endless drone of squeaky voices proclaiming the just-around-the-corner demise of Humanity (and everything else) by was of Mankind’s hand in blowing CO₂ bubbles is one thing. Its quite another to suddenly be set upon by interstellar locusts that have a taste for unharvested life, and who make our present-and-near-future attainments of science-and-self-defense look like those of earthworms and fruit flies compared to theirs. 

    I don’t think that LISTENING per se is a terribly bad idea, in as much as decoding information-modulated electromagnetic transmissions necessarily requires transforming the data from encoded form to something somewhat more concrete. It was quite a pleasure to observe the Contact (movie) vision of what the received interstellar message might be, and how it would come about. Quite an exciting, detail-rich account. Well, Asimov was a detail-rich kind of fellow. 

    So, in a nutshell, I don’t expect to be receiving existential compromising messages from any of the alien species that may well be teeming around ‘within earshot’. Just merely receiving messages, and trying to figure out what they mean, … well, that’s going to be interesting, if ever it should start producing results. 

    But this is a comfort of significant naiveté: to interstellar-fairing hunter-gatherers, we are about as threatening, really, as fruit flies.

    Steven Hawking has great fear for Humanity.

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

  34. Let’s not forget the iron law of logistics. If an interstellar visitor happened upon us–he’d be far from home–and likely scared of the forest of nukes at out beck and call.

  35. I concur that active SETI might turn out to be a really bad idea.

    Our EM signals don’t really go that far while being perceptible, and they tend to diminish in intensity and intelligibility over time, as we get more advanced and better at sending encoded information using less energy. But if someone really advanced out there and eagerly wanting to find anyone, actually does it, things may not go very well for us.

    Gee, even passive, just listening SETI can turn out to be a bad idea. Given the infinity of possibilities of information content, you never know when you are the target of some manipulation to reveal yourself or self destruct, or the victim of an attack disguised as a gift.

    My point is: we should be really careful who we listen and talk to, and specially, who we invite to our home by screaming in the dark.

    Earth reflecting light with life’s signatures for billions of years is a perennial existential risk we can’t do anything about, but confirming we are there by making perceptible squeaks strikes me as monumentally stupid.

  36. Good article. THanks, Brian. I do not agree with Zubrin re: sending artificially engineered bits of DNA as message carrying capsules, insofar as like “needles in a haystack”, any incoming bits to a foreign system would be indistinguishable from the gazillions of bits of cosmic dust that impact our atmosphere … or quadrillions of bits that pass thru the solar system … every day.  There’s a lot of slivers of hay in a haystack. But, probably not a billion!

    But to counter that Zubrin invokes the God of Magic, to replicate our precocious message-to-our-neighbors quadrillions of times so that it becomes nearly impossible not to receive ‘the message’, and get it decoded.  

    OI. If I can invoke magic when needed, or ‘near magic’ in this case, well … there’s a lot of things we can solve that are less dangerous that alerting our brilliant-and-far-more-evolved neighbors of our tastiness and willingness to host their feasting. You know?

    Just saying,
    GoatGuy ✓

Comments are closed.