Humans are the Twitter trolls of the universe. Earth is that one persistent little planet that won’t shut up, and hasn’t shut up, since radio took off almost six decades ago.
Entire organizations exist solely to contact hypothetical alien life. The international group Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence is watching for a reply in an observatory located in Michigan.
If that reply ever comes, Earth is unprepared and unprotected. While Congress debates creating a military branch for space, thousands of messages are travelling through space — all soggy with a blissful hope for extraplanetary peace.
“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well,” Stephen Hawking said in a 2016 documentary.
We featherless bipeds have been sending messages to space since the 1960s. The Russians started things off by beaming “LENIN,” “SSSR” (the Russian acronym for the Soviet Union), and “MIR” (“peace” or “world”) in Morse code towards Venus.
That bit of Cold War trivia is currently travelling to the Libra constellation, more than 2,000 light years away, towards a potential proletariat.
In 1974, famous astronomer Carl Sagan got his chance to say hello with the Arecibo message. Using binary digits, he included Earth’s population of human edibles — and how to get here. That message is heading towards M13, a dense collection of stars about 25,000 light years away.
We launched the Golden Record with Voyager 1 in 1977 with its analog-encoded photographs, 55 greetings, and collection of sounds. They are now about 13 billion miles away from Earth.
Most of the greetings are loving and hopeful messages, as if the astronomers hoped that sending aggressively peaceful messages would inspire peaceful feelings in any recipients.
Perhaps the most unfortunate was the greeting that invited the aliens to dinner.
“Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time,” one message says in the Amoy dialect. One wonders why they didn’t just include a cookbook.
The record also contains an engraving of Earth’s delectables: Etched on its surface is a drawing of a nude man and pregnant woman — NASA excised photos for modesty’s sake — and another helpful diagram of how to find Earth.
But as famous as the Golden Record is, it is likely to be as effective as a message in a bottle. Even if they do exist, aliens will likely never hear whales singing, humans kissing, and one of Chuck Berry’s songs from his Golden Decade.
That last one raised some objections, namely that it was adolescent to try to blast rock music to star system 25,000 light years away.
“There are a lot of adolescents on the planet,” Carl Sagan is reported to have said.
Today his comment seems prophetic. In 2001, the adolescents of the planet wrested control of deep-space communication. In what was popularly known as the “Teenage Message,” Russian teens blared musical tunes to six different likely-looking stars.
Not to be outdone, NASA beamed up the Beatles into space, using radio signals to transmit “Across the Universe” towards the North Star in 2008.
That same year, Doritos decided to exploit the extraterrestrial market. For six hours, Doritos transmitted a 30-second advertisement towards a habitable zone in the Ursa Major constellation in case E.T. wanted a snack.
“We also shouldn’t be too surprised if the first aliens start arriving on planet Earth immediately demanding a bag of Doritos,” head of the Doritos Broadcast Project Peter Charles said in a statement at the time.
Nor is Doritos alone. Craigslist also sent over 100,000 postings into deep space, offering aliens free kittens, used IKEA furniture, and more.
We’ve also sent E.T. a movie, 501 social media messages, and 5,000 internet messages that attempted to “Break the Eerie Silence” with invitations to coffee dates, forlorn pleas for friendship or life advice, and a demand that E.T. return a lost Frisbee.
Australians have been particularly chatty, sending 25,878 texts to the Libra constellation.
Now, even aliens have to beware of phishing scams: One of the internet messages reads: “MY PURPOSE OF CONTACTING YOU IS TO SEEK YOUR HELP IN TRANSFERRING THE SUM OF FIVE MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS (USD 5,000,000.00) TO A TRUSTED BANK ON YOUR PLANET.”
Hardly a rousing defense of life on Earth. We are breaking the eerie silence with civilization’s rubbish — and we should stop. What is said cannot be unsaid, and we have no guarantee that any alien would be interested in friendly conversation.
If we don’t create a Space Corps, we will be defenseless when E.T. finally comes to kill us just to get some peace and quiet.
Julie Havlak is a senior studying English.