Scientists are planning to beam a radio message into deep space that had the late Stephen Hawking worried because it details information on human life.
Hawking, a renowned theoretical physicist, and cosmologist generally supported all efforts to confirm alien life but he cautioned scientists about actively reaching out our selves. Hawking was worried that any extraterrestrials who received our signal might not respond amicably.
“If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilizations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced,” Hawking said at the time, noting that any superior forms of life “may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.”
Now, a new message is being beamed to space with detailed information on Earth’s location, the solar system and human DNA. The Beacon in the Galaxy (BITG) message is an update on the 1974 binary code Arecibo message.
“The proposed message includes basic mathematical and physical concepts to establish a universal means of communication followed by information on the biochemical composition of life on Earth, the Solar System’s time-stamped position in the Milky Way relative to known globular clusters, as well as digitized depictions of the Solar System, and Earth’s surface,” BITG creator Jonathan Jiang wrote in the study concerning the message, “The message concludes with digitized images of the human form, along with an invitation for any receiving intelligences to respond.”
The BITG team said that they believe the benefits of contacting aliens outweigh any potential risks. “Stephen Hawking’s quote is absolutely inspiring and my personal conclusion was that any species capable of understanding and interpreting our message will likely be equally if not more intelligent and wary of our existence,” Jamilah Hah, a BITG team member said.
The message will co-launch from the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California and the Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope in China.
Hawking compared humanity’s encounter with alien life to the Native Americans meeting Columbus, “that didn’t turn out so well,” he said. The famed physicist clearly had serious concerns about contacting alien life, but they were outweighed by his desire to know if they were really out there.
Hawking’s Breakthrough Listen project focused on searching for signs of intelligent life rather than broadcasting signals from Earth. The project launched in 2015 and was given a 10-year duration. In 2021, Breakthrough Listen announced that much of their work was being interfered with by human technologies.