Questions about aliens have been around for as long as we gazed at the stars. Is there life out there, what will it look like and how do we talk to it?
The other question is how do we get there, and the answer may well be ‘you can’t get there from here’.
The good news is that we are on our way and have some routes planned. As we said, the Voyager probes have now left our solar system and are hoping to join a galactic freeway that will whisk them to the centre of galaxy. After all, that seems a pretty good place to look.
The other good news is that we are getting pretty good at map reading. Astronomers just adjusted our ‘normal’ route to Mars, by taking a turn round Venus. This will give us a slingshot type boost and make the journey faster – and cheaper.
We are also getting better and better at making fuel. A scientist in Wuhan (famous for starting something a lot less glamourous than finding aliens) is working on turning electricity directly into thrust. This means no fossil fuel is needed to make the thrust and electricity and air replace all that messing about with old fashioned burning. To many this sounds a little like how Iron Man gets around but others are less sceptical and, if it is proven, then it could revolutionise many things, including space travel.
Of course, the other thing about aliens is that, while we have just sent a signal (with music) to a potential ‘Super Earth’ (which will take 24 years to get there), aliens may be doing the same to us. The strange lump of rock that sailed through our solar system a couple of years ago had many people believing it to be a light sail. Essentially, aliens throwing a rock into our garden to see if we picked it up.
The sceptics said that it was just a lump of rock and there were no ‘signatures’ to suggest it was thrown by aliens.
Others said yes, but ‘Oumuamua accelerated as it left the solar system, an anomalous velocity change that was attempted to be explained as increased propulsion from emission jets as the comet was partially thawed by the Sun. However, no jets or coma were observed. So, the acceleration remains unexplained. And if it is like a metallic asteroid, Loeb points out that it is moving too fast to be a simple inert rock—essentially the calculations show that there is some force pushing the object from behind’.
And if that wasn’t enough to get scientists thinking, they have now discovered a stream of stars flowing into our galaxy and they are not sure where they are coming from. The questions still outweigh the answers on this, and will do for some time.
Aliens, of course, do not necessarily live light years away and we may not recognise them when we do meet them. It would be extremely convenient if they looked like us and we could understand everything they said (in which case, that guy in the corner of the coffee shop – is he?) but it is highly unlikely.
This photographer, who worked for the National Geographic is convinced that he has come face to fa – er, fin with aliens in our oceans.
And if aliens turn to be a small blob of green slime, well, they are definitely amongst us and there is little chance of having a meaningful conversation.
It is possible that we will ‘make contact’ during our lifetime and it will be exciting and scary in equal measure. It will also be a huge test for Governments in how to communicate the meeting without causing hysteria.
In the meantime, here are some ideas about how aliens might be communicating with us, but we just don’t know.