If your most feared end-of-days scenario involves an alien race finding Earth, raiding it for its natural resources, and then doing away with humanity just for fun, now would be a good time to worry. Researchers will soon start sending unsolicited messages to other worlds in the hopes of making contact with an intelligent alien species, with the goal of establishing a dialogue with something out there in the depths of space.

METI — which stands for Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence — is a startup in San Francisco that will be scheduling its first messages for some time in the next two years. Douglas Vakoch, President of META, is also a former member of SETI, which has been organizing the search for intelligent life from its California headquarters since the 1980s.

But before METI can start sending out its greetings, scientists first need to figure out exactly what that message will be. How do you greet a different species that has no knowledge of humanity, our languages, or our customs?

Then there’s the matter of whether or not we should actually attempt to contact aliens at all, as it’s impossible to know whether or not they’d be happy to hear from us. The popular sci-fi trope of an alien civilization waging war on Earth is, hopefully, far-fetched, but anything is possible. The group will attempt to answer these questions and craft humanity’s best opening line before starting the messaging experiment.

METI’s first target will likely be a planet currently orbiting Proxima Centauri, which may have the capacity to support life. The group then plans to send greetings to other areas much farther away, keeping their fingers crossed that someone — anyone — is listening.

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