It looks like those radio telescopes out in the desert may finally have found somebody out there, according to a report posted on the web yesterday by KTVU in California (thanks to Mrs. Unfocused for emailing me the link). The story says that SETI researchers have found “a mystery signal has been picked up by a giant radio-telescope in Puerto Rico.” I tried a quick search on the web for more detail, searching Google News, The New York Times, Digg, The SETI Institute, SETI@home, and even, as a last resort NASA (even though we all know from watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and Men in Black that if the government ever gets in contact with aliens, we will never, ever be told the truth), and found precisely nothing. If “researchers searching for signs of life in space were abuzz this week” with the news, why hasn’t anyone else covered it? Maybe I missed it — I’ll look more tonight. It does seem odd, though, that news of first contact would be broken by the local Fox affiliate in Oakland and no one else would even notice.
Enough with the skepticism. The article jumps straight to the interesting part of the discussion: if we have received a coherent signal of clearly intelligent origin from thousands of light years away, should we respond and if so, what response should we make?
The naysayers are worried that if we send a signal back out there, we may not like the response we get. The article quotes others who believe that even if the civilization that sent the signal is malevolent, what harm could they do to us?
It’s a fascinating question. I’ll post some thoughts of my own tonight.