The Aliens Are Coming!

Science has shown it's no longer a question of "do aliens exist?" but rather "when will we contact them?"

| December 2017

  • The Aliens Are Coming! The Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe by Ben Miller.
    Photo by The Experiment Publishing

The Aliens Are Coming!: The Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe (The Experiment, 2016) by Ben Miller is a refreshenigly clear, hugely entertaining guide to the search for alien life. Ben Miller-Cambridge-trained quantum physicist, bestselling science writer, and popular comedic actor-looks everywhere for insight, from the Big Bang's sea of energy that somehow became living matter, to the equations that tell us Earth is not so rare, to the clues bacteria hold to how life started. 

WE COME IN PEACE

On August 25, 2012, the first of our ships reached interstellar space. It was unmanned. Launched three and a half decades earlier, it had skirted Jupiter and Saturn, and was now heading out of the solar system toward Camelopardalis, a little-known constellation close to the Big Dipper. Although clear of the solar wind, it was not quite out of reach of the sun’s gravity, nor would it be for a further thirty millennia. By then it would finally have traversed what is known as the Oort Cloud, a thick outer shell of icy rubble that encases our home star and its eight planets like the flesh around a peach stone. At that point it would be nearly a light-year out. Forget the galaxy; even the solar system is unimaginably large.

The ship’s name was Voyager 1, and on board was a message from the people of Earth, encoded on what became known as the “Golden Record.” This gold-plated phonographic disc, curated by the distinguished American cosmologist Carl Sagan, spoke on behalf of all humanity. It began with a recorded message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim. Reading haltingly, with a strong Austrian accent, he made the following statement:

I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet. We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship: to teach if we are called upon; to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.



After this greeting came a choir of voices speaking in fifty-five languages:* everything from Akkadian, the language of ancient Sumer, to Wu, the contemporary Chinese dialect spoken around Shanghai. Some, such as the Japanese, appeared shy: “Hello, how are you?” Others were more forthcoming, such as the Amoy of southeastern China, who offered: “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.” The speaker of Ancient Greek, on the other hand, issued a barely concealed threat: “Greetings to you all, whoever you are. We come in friendship . . . to those who are friends.”

These Greetings of Earth were accompanied by twenty-odd Sounds of Earth, among them echoing footsteps, hard rain, and a handsaw cutting fresh wood. Over one hundred Scenes of Earth showed images such as a hand being x-rayed, the chemical structure of DNA, and a man and a pregnant woman in silhouette. And, finally, there was the Music of Earth, with over twenty of humanity’s nest recordings, including the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and “Johnny B. Goode” performed by Chuck Berry.