We’ve had some lively discussions about SETI in the past year and 2007 should be equally provocative, especially as we keep tackling topics like the Fermi question and METI, the attempt to signal extraterrestrial civilizations from Earth. Most people don’t realize that messages other than the famous 1974 signal from Arecibo have already been sent. But to cite just one example, the so-called ‘Cosmic Call 1′ message targeting four Sun-like stars was transmitted from the Evpatoria Planetary Radar site in the Crimea in 1999, as discussed earlier in these pages. There have been others.
Trying to place passive SETI listening activities and their ‘active’ METI component into perspective demands we be aware of the issues and able to place them into a civilization-wide context. On that score, I’ll be interested to see Michael Michaud’s book Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials (Springer, 2006).
The book, says David Brin in an Amazon review, “…does not leap upon a simple, single ‘explanation’ for the apparent loneliness of humanity, but rather lays out some of the scope and range of this wide-open field, showing some of the disputes that have made this such a colorful field in recent years.” My copy has yet to arrive but we’ll be discussing many of these issues here when it does. I have a lot of respect for this author.
Michaud, who has served as director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Advanced Technology, is also chairman of working groups at the International Academy of Astronautics that discuss SETI issues, and has published numerous articles and papers on the implications of contact. I’m sure his book will help to focus discussion at a time when various disputes in the SETI community demand original thinking and clarity of thought. We don’t have a SETI signal yet and we may never get one, but we need to firm up our thinking on what to do when and if it happens.