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NASA’s Free E-book on How to Talk to Aliens

Hello, fellow earthlings! As our ability to travel in space continues to expand, there are many questions being raised about the possibility of encountering an intelligent alien species. What will they look like? How will we communicate with them? Do they come in peace? Obviously, if there is alien life technologically advanced enough to travel to Earth, we’d better hope they’re just here to say hello. The team behind the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) has been pondering these questions for a few decades now, and they’ve developed some semi-official codes of conduct for the rest of us.

Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication is a compilation of works by many people involved in SETI. While there are infinite scientific questions and implications regarding the actual practicality of alien life reaching Earth (think distances of more than 100 million light years), this free e-book dissects the much more likely possibility that we would receive some sort of communication long before physical contact. It approaches this topic from a more ‘human’ perspective. Questions are raised about cultural differences: understanding a culture across the stars, communicating with said culture, and projecting our cultural values on an alien species. Theoretically, this process will highly reflect that of Archaeology. We will be attempting to piece together the function and design of a culture we will likely have no access to, much like attempts to fully understand ancient civilizations here on Earth. This book stresses the responsibility we have as a species to understand that approaching another intelligent species is also approaching another developed culture. Though we may not agree with their ideals, we have to respect them, lest we start our first interstellar conflict.

Behind this fascinating work, SETI stands strong. It was founded by Dr. Frank Drake after an experiment he performed in 1960 with the sole purpose of seeking out extraterrestrial intelligence in our galactic neighborhood. This fateful experiment, though unsuccessful, ushered in an era of scientists who believe that encountering ETs is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Dr. Carl Sagan was one of the minds behind this project, and was among the first to publically discuss the practicality and implementation of discovering intelligent life beyond earth. In a famous episode of his TV show Cosmos, Sagan discusses Dr. Drake’s best-known theory, the Drake Equation:

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L
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This equation uses probability to estimate the number of active, communicative ET civilizations in our galaxy. It considers the number of possible civilizations, the average rate of star formation, the fraction of stars that have planets, the average number of planets per star with planets that have the potential to support life, the fraction of those planets that actually develop life, the fraction of planets bearing life where intelligent, civilized life has developed, the fraction of those civilizations that have developed communications capable of space travel, and the length of time those civilizations release detectable signals. This is not meant to be a concrete means of determining how many potential civilizations there are—the results vary from 20 to 500 million—but to initiate and sustain a dialogue about this crucial issue. The most compelling evidence of the likely certainty of ET life is the fact that we exist. Where there is one, there are likely to be more. It’s time to start preparing ourselves for the near-certainty that we are not alone in the Universe.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to communicate with aliens, you can download NASA’s free e-book in PDF form here, or get the Kindle reader version here.

Logan Isaman

Logan Isaman is a recent graduate with a B.A. in Language, Rhetoric, and Writing. She currently volunteer teaches English in Colombia, South America and spends most of her monthly stipend in the Kindle Store. She considers herself to be a bit of a Sci-Fi expert, but also loves a good downtrodden Beat. You can check out her life at loganisntaman.wordpress.com.