When I think of encounters with extraterrestrials I imagine them coming in their big space-traversing ships and with far more knowledge than we have.
This is of course assuming that they find us. Not only do they find us, they decide to visit us.
"Oh, sweet! A Whataburger!"
What would it look like if we found them? Right now we are looking, but even if we found them we would have no way of visiting them, at least not with the technology we have now. We might be able to communicate with them, or at least send an informational signal that they may or may not be able to receive, but even if they could receive it, could they interpret it?
As I study telecommunications this semester I become increasingly aware that the aliens we would find with Big Ear or similar equipment would be much different than the ones that occupy the human imagination.
It is only at a very specific moment in the timeline of a civilization where creatures from another planet could pick up signals other than the light reflected off our planet. The reason for this is that it requires there be signals to pick up. This rules out ancient times when all messages had to be recorded on a physical device and the device passed on to the person needing the information. While this leaves behind items for the historical record, it does not broadcast anything into space.
After years of development of better baths and accounting records we eventually end up in 1888 where Hertz produced a radio wave using a spark gap transmitter.
Now fast forward to today. Most adults these days have cell phones. Why is this? Because wireless transmission has become so much more efficient. This efficiency means that we are blasting less out into space. This means the extraterrestrials we are most likely to find are technologically somewhere similar to where we were between the 1920s-1980s.
Now as we become more technologically advanced the quieter and quieter signals we can pick up. However the level of technology we have to receive is no better than the technology with which we can send messages. This leaves us with the interesting implication that if we do find extraterrestrials they will, of necessity, be no more advanced than us. Here’s to hoping they find us.
My name is Caroline Storm Westenhover. I am a Senior Electrical Engineering student at the University of Texas at Arlington. I am the third of seven children. I enjoy collecting ideas and theories and most enjoy when they come together to present a bigger picture as a whole. Perhaps that is why I like physics and engineering. My biggest dream is to become an astronaut.
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