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First Contact

An Alternative to Common Thought

By Cie McCulloughPublished about a year ago 3 min read

Since the beginnings of popular science fiction, the idea of any initial meetings between humans and extraterrestrials have happened overwhelmingly on Earth. From Well's The War of the Worlds, in which the Martians attack, to Clarke's Childhood's End, an attempt at peaceful utopia under alien overlords, the extraterrestrials have come to Earth with more technology, more knowledge, and always, always, more firepower. Whether it's peaceful Vulcans shaking hands with Zefram Cochrane, or multiple fifteen mile wide saucers being deployed over major Earth cities, it is what we Earthlings have come to expect. If you believe in intelligent alien life, you instinctively believe it will eventually come to us.

But of course this is not the way First Contact will likely occur.

Earthlings, for all our desire to explore, are barely able to reach our nearest planet, forget our nearest habitable one. Superluminal propulsion is considered theoretical, light sails have a maximum speed of only 10% the speed of light, and long term suspended animation has not yet been perfected. Humans have yet to leave our own solar system. We have yet to build a livable and sustainable space station outside our own orbit. Our exploration of Space is limited to our own neighborhood, with no current plans to go further.

But humans have to go further. We always have. We have to see what's beyond the next swell on the ocean, what's through the trees, what's over the mountain. And before thoughts of traveling to the stars occurred to us, we looked up to see them. Since the early 17th century we have looked even closer, refining and developing better and better telescopes through the years until we could see Space even clearer by sending the telescopes into orbit. Out of Earth's atmosphere we can see the stars and their planets that are too old, too distant, or too faint to be seen before. We can see the formation of galaxies and stars, and we can see potentially habitable planets outside our own solar system.

We can see potentially habitable planets outside our own solar system.

Now consider this: although we have made amazing strides in the last century, from a twelve second aircraft flight to a planned Mars mission; as far as a technological timeline is considered, we are centuries ahead on our development of the telescope than we are on our development of space travel. In fact, the word telescope has come to mean much more than when Galileo Galilei built his first in 1608. Telescopes are now not just far seeing, they are far detecting. They can detect different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and they can detect detectors. They are watching for watchers.

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched December 2021, is studying "the atmosphere of exoplanets, to search for the building blocks of life", but it is just as possible it will see the building blocks of civilization. It may be a civilization that is watching for us, or it may be a civilization not yet ready for First Contact, but it will be seen, and it will be far easier to modify our current telescopes to try and establish a form of long distance communication than it will be to suddenly perfect a quantum drive. No invasions necessary.

This will happen first. The signs are all there. Despite what Hollywood and almost the entirety of written Science Fiction has led us to believe, First Contact will be slow and distant, and will allow us, as a world, as a species, to come together and accept that we are not alone. There will be no giant spaceships hovering in a way our minds say they shouldn't; instead there will be ways to communicate long before we ever meet. There will be cultural exchanges as music, art, and literature are sent digitally across the void of space. We will find the common ground and explore not with weapons, but with the sights and sounds and ideas that truly define us.


About the Creator

Cie McCullough

I write about history, travel, and whatever crosses my mind. I love to explore and learn, and love history as much as science. I take a different view of the world, and do my best to convey that view when I write.

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  • Paul Levinsonabout a year ago

    Brilliant idea! I think you may well be right!

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