People were dreaming of the day when we might finally discover an alien civilization long before we had the kind of telescope technology that do today. It used to be a pipe dream to think that we’d be able to spot planets orbiting distant stars but now we know of thousands and thousands of such planets, and we’re finding more on a startlingly regular basis. So, the question inevitably becomes when, exactly, will we have enough technological power to actually identify intelligent alien life residing somewhere in space.
Physicist Michio Kaku, world-famous for his best-selling books and appearances on all manner of science programs, believes we’re closer than we think. In fact, he believes that we may be just one space telescope launch away from having what we need to spot a distant alien civilization living out their lives somewhere in the galaxy. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Kaku explained that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope may be the answer.
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The James Webb Space Telescope was supposed to launch over a decade ago but has been bogged down by delays, mistakes, and massive budget overruns. The contractor NASA hired to build the spacecraft, Northrop Grumman, has stumbled repeatedly while continually asking for more and more money to complete the project. It’s been a total embarrassment from top to bottom, but once the telescope is finally done (whenever that might actually happen) it’s going to be able to study distant exoplanets in entirely new ways.
When asked about discovering and even making contact with an alien civilization, Kaku said that scientists are mixed on the idea of reaching out.
“Soon we’ll have the Webb telescope up in orbit and we’ll have thousands of planets to look at, and that’s why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilisation,” Kaku told the paper. “There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortés in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago. Now, personally, I think that aliens out there would be friendly but we can’t gamble on it. So I think we will make contact but we should do it very carefully.”
If we do indeed find conclusive evidence of an alien civilization living on a distant planet, there will be many questions to answer before we can make contact. For starters, the length of time it will take to contact them might be prohibitive in the sense that sending a message now might not reach the planet for decades or even centuries. On top of that, we simply won’t know what kind of technology other intelligent life might have available, so sending a radio signal or some kind of coded light message might go entirely unnoticed.
Of course, this all assumes we find an alien civilization, and, of course, that depends on the launch of the James Webb telescope. It’s currently slated for a launch in October, but as it’s already been delayed by many years it’s probably not a good idea to hold your breath this time around.
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