Responding to Alien Transmissions

“It can be very comforting to rely on ideology (for example political, religious, and even scientific ideology), but what is also interesting about something like this is you would have scientist trying to conduct the research and development required to develop this technology (and) they would see very quickly that the soft science issues are as hazardous and froth with danger as the hard science.”
Phil Surles

Space is a noisy place — and we receive signals from the heavens all the time. Everything from energetic waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, to the sounds of gravitational waves. And furthermore, we already have the technology to send a reply to our closest exoplanets.

It’s easy to dismiss a signal as nothing more than normal space noise – or to get overexcited, and confuse normal transmissions with with extraterrestrial communications. There are significant challenges to detecting a transmission. But, just for fun, let’s say a signal does get to us – what do we do?

Clearly, this would be a big project – one that requires many brilliant minds who are willing to work together. Anyone who’s been involved in a large scale project before knows that collaborations on that scale come with their own unique set of challenges.

Let’s talk through those challenges together.

What do you think? Would you want to reach out? Would you want your tax dollars put to work building a giant antenna, or investing in a translation project that might never succeed?


Dr. Beth Biller – Royal Observatory, University of Edinburgh
Dr. Kathryn Denning – York University, Institute for Science and Technology Studies
Dr. Duncan Forgan – University of St. Andrews, Astrophysicist and Astrobiologist
Pippa Goldschmidt – Writer and Astronomer
Dr. Avi Loeb – Harvard and Breakthrough Initiatives
Dr. Joel Meyers – Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
Phil Surles – Cultural and Applied Anthropologist
Dr. Christine Corbett Moran – Postdoctoral Researcher, Caltech
Simon Peter Worden – Executive Director, Breakthrough Starshot; former Director of NASA Ames Research Center
Dr. Aaron Zimmerman – Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
Seth Shostak – Senior Scientist at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence )



We have some wild, hopeful ideas about how we’d organize around translating alien transmissions. See the show to find out.