News and Tribune


September 17, 2013

BEAM: Guess who’s coming to dinner

— For the love of all that’s sacred, we gave them a map. Who are “they” you ask? Well, our future visitors from another planet, of course.

You see, a monumental moment in history happened last week. NASA confirmed that the 36-year-old probe Voyager 1 had officially entered interstellar space on Aug. 25, 2012. No other human-made object has ever made it out of our solar system.

If left undeterred [aka not being shot up by Klingon war ships], this floating apparatus could continue its roughly 38,000 mph journey for tens of thousands of years to come. Unfortunately, Earthlings won’t be able to follow its ongoing travels due to the exhaustion in seven years of the probe’s power source, which allowed it to send back data.

“Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science, and adding a new chapter in human scientific dreams and endeavors,” said John Grunsfeld, a NASA guy who probably makes his underlings call him Captain Kirk, in a news release.

Pretty cool stuff, huh? But here’s the kicker. “Golden Records,” complete with playing instructions, have been stored on Voyager just in case the spacecraft might happen to encounter an alien civilization during its flight. On these blasts from the past, scientists have chronicled life on earth through photos and sounds as well as some important data such as the layout of human DNA. Also included in the info are directions on how to find Earth just in case E.T. wants to stop by for a visit.

And this in itself creates a conundrum. While the likelihood of Voyager coming across an alien species, even if some do exist in our universe, remains infinitesimally small, what happens if the one civilization that gains access to this information is hostile?

After all, according to the Drake Equation, more than 6,250,000,000 life-supporting planetary systems should exist in our knowable universe. Throw in the age of the universe and these many, many stars, and living organisms should be running rampant throughout the galaxies. [For an interesting look into why we haven’t found any solid evidence of alien life despite its supposed frequency, check out discussion involving this quandary commonly known as the Fermi paradox online].

So what if these guys don’t like to play nice with carbon-based life forms? An astronomer named Seth Shostak concluded that competition for finite resources, regardless of which solar system you lived in, would create an aggressive civilization. Pair that with the higher technological savvy that would be needed by an alien species to journey to our planet and you can see how Earth could be conquered with relative ease. We can dream of punching a big headed alien in the nose like in “Independence Day,” but in reality we’d most likely end up like Alderaan after meeting the Death Star ... just another piece of cosmic dust.

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” said renowned scientist and possibly the smartest man alive Stephen Hawking in a Discovery series which bears his name. “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

Not everyone believes visitors from another world would be hostile. Another smart guy and kick-butt astronomer Carl Sagan said any extra-terrestrials that would have the technology to travel the great distance to Earth would need to transcend war for their own self-preservation. This, in turn, would give them the time to create interspace travel. FYI, Sagan helped decide on the information that would be stored on Voyager’s Golden Records. If aliens do listen to the disc, they’ll hear the astronomer’s son saying “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”

Regardless of whether bellicose aliens ever stop by for some tea or subjugation, quite a few astronomers fear something much more than a visiting armada from a different galaxy.

At present, humans tend to be the greatest threat to their own survival, they say. And with wars raging and nuclear weapons proliferating across the globe, maps to human destruction can be found almost anywhere without any interstellar travel even needed.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at


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