This SKA (“Square Kilometre Array”), that mass telescope array to probe deep space that is now in the news – coupled with goings on in the mountains northeast of San Francisco – worries me.
The Americans have installed an “Alien-hunt Facility” in those mountains comprising 400 signal-detecting dishes to transmit into deep space and, they hope, receive signals from alien sources somewhere out there.
It is the heart of Nasa’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti) programme.
But what should they do if they receive an intelligent message from an alien planet?
There’s been a unanimous decision: “Don’t answer it!”
Scientists prescribe that “no response should be sent until appropriate international consultations have taken place”.
Since space probing by radio waves began in 1959, the only intelligent signal Nasa has so far received was a voice repeating over and over: “Your call IS important to us, but all our agents are currently busy.” After a great deal of excitement and hurried meetings at the White House and frantic calls to Europe and Asia they discovered that a Seti antenna had toppled against a telephone line and had connected through to an SA medical aid society.
The agreement to delay any response to a message from extraterrestrials is a big relief. The last thing we want is for Planet Earth to attract the attention of some giant planet that might send a double-decker space bus filled with lizard-men, 17m in their stockinged feet, who, as they seek the intelligent life that sent out the messages come trampling all over us as if we were ants.
Even if the reply came from an |itsy-bitsy planet, it might still precipitate an invasion by a life-form of inquisitive mosquito-like beings with highly advanced drilling equipment instead of proboscises and capable of subcutaneously injecting 50 000 eggs a minute.
Ever since scientists set up Seti, this column has pleaded with scientists to do the opposite. Rather have a Kohdasu programme – Keep Our Heads Down and Shut Up – for who knows what’s out there? There might well be an extraterrestrial creature every bit as mean as humans who’ll discover that human noses are a great aphrodisiac and snip them off, or they’ll be monsters the size of road graders and they’ll harvest us to sell back at Planet X-13 to be eaten deep-fried with cocktails.
What if they are truly colossal and carry our skyscrapers and railway trains back with them for their mountain-sized kids to play with – after first shaking out all the funny little two-legged things.
Or, as I have said before, they might be cold, slimy, smelly creatures with hearts overflowing with affection and crawl into our beds eager for warmth and company.
The one ray of hope in all this is that if we do receive a signal it will be millions of years from now. This is because if there is indeed life out there it will be on a planet zillions of light years away.
On the other hand, what if they travel a million times faster than light and can send colossal remote-controlled vacuum cleaners to suck up and bring back for analysis interesting samples of distant planets – such as Gauteng? We would hate that.
LETTER TO THE STOEP
Ever so esteemed Sir,
A recent joint study conducted by the Department of Health and the Department of Motor Vehicles indicates that 23 percent of traffic accidents are alcohol-related. This means that the remaining 77 percent are caused by those who just drink coffee, tea and soft drinks.
So beware of those who do not drink alcohol. They cause three times as many accidents.