UFO satellite
Experts say we need to understand ETs' intentions before we try to contact themSeti Institute

It's a question that's plagued mankind for some time: Is there anything else out there in the universe? This question in turn provides us a plethora of questions, essentially leading us to the Fermi Paradox – if there is something out there, due to the relative youth of humankind, they must be more advanced than we, so why have they not contacted us?

Alternatively, should we be trying to contact them? Active Seti [Search for extraterrestrial intelligence] programmes have been established in a bid to contact alien beings which must be somewhere out there in the vast universe, but these programmes have been greeted by cautiousness from scientists and civilians alike.

In early 2015, a petition from scientists warned others to desist with their efforts of contacting extraterrestrial intelligence [ETI], because of the fear that we could alert them to our existence, which may prompt them to colonise or destroy our lovely planet, Earth. Some of the key points from the statement, which originated from The University of California, Berkeley, include: "We know nothing of ETI's intentions and capabilities, and it is impossible to predict whether ETI will be benign or hostile."

Additionally, it urged experts to "listen before we shout", as we need to understand their intentions before we contact them.

Aliens
"No one knows if ETs are good guys or bad guys," says Stephen DickiStock

However, renowned astronomer Stephen Dick, who served as chairman of the American Astronomical Society and has worked extensively with and for Nasa, says that it is imperative that we continue our search for aliens. In a blog post on the website of Seti International he counters any fears and says that we must persevere.

"No one knows if ETs are good guys or bad guys. The question is whether this should prevent Meti [Messaging extraterrestrial intelligence] from happening. 'Curiosity killed the cat' critics might warn. But do they really mean to imply we should stifle curiosity?" he writes.

He also says that ETs may have the same mind-set as us and says that everyone in the universe might be listening, and too afraid to make first contact out of fear that there is something more advanced. "If all ETs follow this rule, everyone may be listening, and no one messaging, and therefore Seti has no chance of success."

"More generally those who oppose Meti are undoubtedly influenced by science fiction, which tends toward conflict for dramatic effect, especially Hollywood movies such as the Alien series and Star Wars, where action and conflict are necessary to appeal to young audiences. Popular culture driven by such profit motives greatly influences us all, but may well have no bearing on reality. The only way to find out is to explore."

He concludes: "In short, while there is room for valid arguments on both sides, and for discussion of what level of international consultation is optimal, I come down on the side of not isolating ourselves from the universe of which we are a part, for better or worse. Waiting until a Seti signal is received and confirmed is certainly one strategy. But if everyone in the universe is listening and no one is sending, we will never make contact. And if we never make contact we will not solve one of the great mysteries of science. Humanity should not hide."