So What Happens the Day After We Find Extraterrestrials?

A senior scientist from the SETI project imagines how we’ll react to inarguable evidence of an alien civilization.

As Hollywood depicts it, aliens first make their presence known with giant egg-like objects hanging in the sky, or a massive ship floating above the White House, or a mysterious saucer slowly opening its door on the Capitol Mall. But with the evidence looking more and more like there has to be life out there — very, very far away — a more realistic scenario is that we’ll first learn of alien civilizations through something like SETI that searches the cosmos for radio signals, and not from advanced beings actually showing up here and scaring the bejeezus out of us.

So, let’s say that day has arrived, and we finally detect inarguable evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization. What happens next? The distance will be too great to traverse for the foreseeable future, so it’ll still be just us here, but with a mind-boggling piece of new information. How will we react?

Will we run screaming into the streets? Maybe. But then what? Go back home and make lunch?

Director/Producer Stuart Langfield spoke to Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI project in California, who’s no doubt spent a considerable amount of time pondering this very question. After all, it’s likely to be him, a colleague, or someone like them who’ll have to break the news to the rest of us someday.

And after years of seeming like SETI was just a fun, quirky project, recent discoveries about the likelihood of there being many planets makes searching the stars for radio signals seem far less quixotic and whimsical.

Ah, yes, what cable news will do with the announcement: Panels of experts arguing, offering guesses disguised as insights, ad infinitum. Until some other story steals our fickle attention away. And we’ll get back to our lives.

But we will be changed. We may not think about it every moment, but we’ll all know something new and profound: We’re not alone.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less