Hamnet is in a pickle! Why, I hear you ask?
Well, in an article published in Science Alert, the question is asked: “If we receive a message from Aliens, should we delete it without reading?”
Scientists have been conducting multiple surveys in the hopes of find indications of “technosignatures” – i.e. evidence of technologically-advanced life (such as radio communications), for at least 50 years.
To put it plainly, if humanity were to receive a message from an extraterrestrial civilisation right now, it would be the single greatest event in the history of civilisation.
But according to a new study, such a message could also pose a serious risk to humanity. Drawing on multiple possibilities that have been explored in detail, they consider how humanity could shield itself from malicious spam and viruses.
The paper, titled “Interstellar communication. IX. Message decontamination is impossible”, recently appeared online.
The study was conducted by Michael Hippke, an independent scientist from the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany; and John G. Learned, a professor with the High Energy Physics Group at the University of Hawaii.
Together, they examine some of the foregone conclusions about SETI and what is more likely to be the case.
To be fair, the notion that an extraterrestrial civilisation could pose a threat to humanity is not just a well-worn science fiction trope. For decades, scientists have treated it as a distinct possibility and considered whether or not the risks outweigh the possible benefits.
As a result, some theorists have suggested that humans should not engage in SETI at all, or that we should take measures to hide our planet.
As Learned told Universe Today via email, there has never been a consensus among SETI researchers about whether or not ETI would be benevolent:
“There is no compelling reason at all to assume benevolence (for example that ETI are wise and kind due to their ancient civilisation’s experience).
“I find much more compelling the analogy to what we know from our history… Is there any society anywhere which has had a good experience after meeting up with a technologically advanced invader? Of course it would go either way, but I think often of the movie Alien… a credible notion it seems to me.”
In addition, assuming that an alien message could pose a threat to humanity makes practical sense.
Given the sheer size of the Universe and the limitations imposed by special relativity (i.e. no known means of faster-than-light travel), it would always be cheaper and easier to send a malicious message to eradicate a civilisation compared to an invasion fleet.
As a result, Hippke and Learned advise that SETI signals be vetted and/or “decontaminated” beforehand.
In terms of how a SETI signal could constitute a threat, the researchers outline a number of possibilities.
Beyond the likelihood that a message could convey misinformation designed to cause a panic or self-destructive behaviour, there is also the possibility that it could contain viruses or other embedded technical issues (i.e. the format could cause our computers to crash).
They also note that, when it comes to SETI, a major complication arises from the fact that no message is likely to be received in only one place, making containment possible.
In the end, it appears that the only real solution is to maintain a vigilant attitude and ensure that any messages we send are as benign as possible.
As Hippke summarised: “I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that a message will be positive, but you cannot be sure. Would you take a 1 percent chance of death for a 99 percent chance of a cure for all diseases? One learning from our paper is how to design [our] own message, in case we decide to send any: Keep it simple, don’t send computer code.”
Basically, when it comes to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, the rules of internet safety may apply. If we begin to receive messages, we shouldn’t trust those that come with big attachments and send any suspicious looking ones to our spam folder.
So if Darth Vader decides, with evil intent, to send you a possibly encrypted 3D hologram from Death Star, either by audio, or digitally on your PC, do think twice before opening the attachment, will you?!
On the other hand, if some of you had given up all hope of receiving a HAMNET message from Bouvet Island because the 3Y0Z team is sadly in Cape Town licking its wounds instead of working a pile-up on the island, there may be hope ahead.
The ARRL Newsletter of 15 February notes that Peripatetic Polish DXpeditioner Dom Grzyb, 3Z9DX, and four other operators announced over the weekend that their postponed plans to mount the 3Y0I DXpedition to Bouvet Island are back on.
“Our trip, planned originally at the end of 2017, was cancelled at the request of the organizers of the 3Y0Z expedition,” an announcement said. “Due to the cancellation by the [3Y0Z] organizers, we are now returning to the implementation of our project and preparations for our trip as a matter of urgency.”
DX-World has reported that the 3Y0I license has been renewed and a landing permit — good for 1 year — issued by the Norwegian Polar Institute. While no specific dates for the DXpedition have been announced, the 3Y0I team said its plans call for operating during the sub-Antarctic summer, which suggests they could be on the air late this year.
The 3Y0I team said it has chartered a seagoing yacht adapted for extreme weather conditions to make the 12-day, 2,800-nautical mile trip from South Africa to Bouvet Island. The team anticipates operating for about 2 weeks. In addition to 3Z9DX, the 3Y0I operators will include Stanislaw, SQ8X; Leszek, SP3DOI; Branko, YU4DX, and Frans, J69DX.
However, the sun is having the last laugh at the moment. The magnetic canopy of sunspot AR2699 exploded on 12 February, for more than 6 hours. The blast produced a C1-class solar flare, and hurled a Coronal Mass Ejection directly at Earth.
For the last three days, Earth has been experiencing a Geomagnetic storm, with high A indices of about 12, and K indices of 4 or higher. With a Solar Flux Index currently of 72, you’re not going to hear Darth Vader or Bouvet very clearly for a while yet!
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.