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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, May 07, 2017 1:00 am

On lookout for space invaders? Try arcade

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

Stephen Hawking once warned that sending radio and TV signals into space was a big mistake because some extraterrestrial civilization will pick them up and invade us.

Then, last week, someone suggested we should try to find a way to camouflage Earth so those nasty aliens won't be able to see us.

Talk like this reminds me of the movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. It was a so-so movie made in 1961. The story is that the Van Allen Belt was set on fire by a meteor shower, the Earth heated up and the north pole melted so we detonated a hydrogen bomb in space to put the fire out.

You can't call the movie science fiction because there was no real science there. Things don't burn in space, much less a radiation belt, but I guess we didn't know that back then.

As dumb as that movie was, all this gnashing of teeth over alien invaders is just as stupid.

We've been listening to space for decades now, hoping to pick up some radio signal that would indicate intelligent life out there. Scientists have heard some weird stuff, such as fast radio bursts that last for a few milliseconds and originate from billions of light years away, but no signals.

That's probably because if there was a civilization capable of communicating across the cosmos, it likely died long ago, before it even occurred to God to create humans.

The concern over broadcasts we've been sending out since the early 1900s is nonsensical.

In theory, those signals would have traveled about 70 or 80 light-years so far. That's a long way, but according to NASA there are only a few thousand stars at that distance. 

I saw a diagram of the Milky Wayne not long ago that tried to show how far our broadcasts have traveled since we started using radio and TV. A tiny line showed that our broadcasts have barely gone anywhere considering the galaxy is 100,000 to 160,000 light years in diameter and has perhaps hundreds of billions of stars.

So if there are aliens out there, listening, it's liable to be tens of thousands of years before they get their first message from earthlings. If they choose to respond and pay us a visit, it will probably be millions of years before they arrive.

That's why the fuss over communicating with alien civilizations is so silly. As much as I love SETI, which stands for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, I'm afraid we're alone, or other life is so far away we may as well be alone.

So when I decide I want to worry about something, I'll worry about comets and asteroids hitting the earth. That stuff really does happen. Just ask the dinosaurs.

But we shouldn't have long to wait. Last week Hawking, apparently not concerned about aliens any more, said mankind would have to leave Earth within 100 years or die.

Unfortunately, I won't be around in 100 years to see if he's right.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others' experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.