To Serve Man

For decades, scientists have used radio telescopes to listen for cosmic signals that could originate with an extraterrestrial civilization. Increasingly, they're also broadcasting messages to the stars in hopes that someone is listening.

But in a new interview with The Times, University of St. Andrews astronomer Martin Dominik cautioned against sending messages into the unknown of deep space.

"Maybe," he told the paper, provocatively, "they will come and eat us."

We Come in Peace

The Arecibo Observatory beamed out a message to potential aliens in 1974. Next year, scientists intend to send a signal to the stars representing the period table of elements. In 2008, the maker of Doritos chips shot a 30-second advertisement to a system in the Ursa Major constellation. And we're constantly beaming radio waves of old music and sitcoms in every direction.

"Anyone can just beam messages into outer space, and nobody has any right to stop them from doing it," Dominik told The Times. "Some people feel uncomfortable about it. For the first time astronomers are facing an ethical question. Should we send messages out to others? Is this dangerous? Should we keep a lower profile? What is the better strategy?"

Last Thing

Dominik's comments allude to the terrifying "dark-forest theory," which holds that astronomers haven't spotted extraterrestrial signals because other civilizations are hiding from killer aliens that wipe out any galactic competition they spot.

"Some say [alien contact] is the greatest thing we should do," Dominik told The Times. "Some think we should be very quiet and this should be the last thing we should do — and it might indeed be the last thing we will do."

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