Let's Hope They Leave the Lights On


Here is my thinking about aliens: they scare me.

Sometimes in the depths of the night, when my husband is asleep and even the dogs can’t be roused and the radiator’s comforting buzz has shut off and no cars stir in the streets below…that is when the what ifs start to creep in.  What if I were abducted?  What if the X-Files is real?  It’s not like I believe in anal probes, but I also don’t want to be, you know, probed.  I’m thoroughly freaked out by Signs and District 9, movies that depict the kind of serious alien drama I just cannot face.

That’s why I was super unhappy to read that seemingly respectable Professor Avi Loeb of the Harvard astrophysics department and equally dignified-seeming Edwin Turner of Princeton had come up with a brilliant new method of tracking down E.T.  Basically, their thinking goes, planets with cities light up really bright at night – so just look for that.  Sure, I've simplified it profoundly, but that's the crux.

It should be obvious why I’m upset about this, but if not, the map below ought to clue you in.  Courtesy of NASA, this is a composite of what our planet looks like at night from outer space:

This map says a couple of things to me, most of which I knew by age 12, thanks to Independence Day: stay out of big cities, don’t ever live in New York, L.A. or Chicago (oops), go immediately and find yourself a hut in – literally – darkest Africa.

In other words, Professors Loeb and Turner have discovered much more than just a way for us to find aliens: they’ve discovered another way for them to find us.  Planet Earth is already a shining beacon of radio waves, X-rays, you-name-it, scattering willy-nilly to the four (six? infinite?) corners of the Universe; we’ve already sent out information bursts like the 1974 Arecibo message, which includes such tidbits as a picture of our solar system, the population of Earth, basic sequencing of DNA.  What is this, an invitation to our new overlords?  A roadmap to interplanetary domination?

If that’s not enough, now we’re happy about lighting up the visible spectrum as well.  Call me a xenophobe, but I just don’t like it.

“This is like a venture capital investment,” Loeb said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “There’s a small chance that it will give you huge dividends.”

If by this Loeb means, “At least we’ll see them coming,” then I’m with him.  But I suspect he has altogether more scientific aims in mind.



I'm aware. But if anyone is interested enough to try looking for other alien civilizations on the same principle, then I think that proves grounds for a reasonable fear right there. (Not that this fear is reasonable...)

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