In the 1970s the space agency launched a probe containing a map to Earth. That might not have been such a good idea.
Forty years on from the launch of NASA’s Voyager 1 probe , some researchers are questioning whether or not the space agency made a serious mistake.
Aboard Voyager 1 is a golden disc containing sounds and images that represent the diversity of life on Earth. The disc also contains a map showing our planet’s location – which NASA felt would allow extra-terrestrials to understand where the probe came from.
The maps were designed by American astronomer Frank Drake, who said: “We needed to put something on the Voyager that said where it came from, and how long it was traveling.”
After launching in 1977, Voyager 1 has become the first ever man-made craft to reach interstellar space – crossing beyond the area of the galaxy directly influenced by the sun.
Voyager 1 is carrying a golden disc with a map to Earth (Image: AFP)
But some critics have now spoken out to say that broadcasting our location to potentially hostile aliens may not have been a very smart idea.
Kathryn Denning, an anthropologist from York University who studies the ethics of sending messages to extraterrestrials, said: “Back when Drake did the pulsar map, and Carl Sagan and the whole team did the Voyager record, there hadn’t been very much debate over the pros and cons of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence.
“Now, however, as you know, there is a major debate among scientists and a variety of stakeholders about the wisdom of doing anything other than listening.”
Even Drake himself now has some reservations about the decision to guide aliens to Earth.
“In those days, all the people I dealt with were optimists, and they thought the ETs would be friendly,” he told an interesting National Geographic feature written by his daughter Nadia.
In the 70s, everyone though aliens would be friendly
“Nobody thought, even for a few seconds, about whether this might be a dangerous thing to do.”
However, he did point out that the chances of the map being picked up and deciphered by aliens are remote.
“The thing is going something like 10 kilometres per second (6.2mph), at which speed it takes – for the typical separation of stars – about half a million years to go from one star to another,” he said.
Physicist Stephen Hawking has repeatedly warned of the dangers of making contact with intelligent aliens.
“If aliens visit us, the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,” Professor Hawking told El País.
“Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach,” he said.
The physicist, who has suffered from motor neurone disease since his twenties, explained that the existence of aliens is beyond doubt.
“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
He also explained that the best chances for the survival of the human race is to find a new home on another planet.
(Image: Channel 4)
“There’s an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth,” Prof Hawking explains.
“I therefore want to raise public awareness about the importance of space flight. I have learnt not to look too far ahead, but to concentrate on the present.
“I have so much more I want to do.”