Con questo articolo, suddiviso in quattro puntate per motivi di lettura, inizia la nostra collaborazione con lo scrittore americano Ricardo L. Garcia. Gli episodi di questo saggio usciranno uno per settimana per tutto il mese di aprile e … saranno in inglese!
For most of us, the sight of the skies at night brings a feeling of awe—so many stars, so far away, so full of mystery.
Some will see in them the mark of a Creation with a purpose and a message, a timeless show of power infinite and logical and coherent. Others will instead regard the distant points of light up above and argue how inevitable it was—considering what we have come to know about the laws governing at least this Universe—that they formed out of the Legos of matter and antimatter, energy and dark energy, given enough space-time and a Big Bang or two.
And still some others (hopefully few in number if in the utterly baffling company of minds like Stephen Hawking’s, no less) will look at the stars above in fear, of all feelings.
Not fear that the stars fall down and wreck this green, sweet world of ours—for all that the slightly misnamed “falling stars” (aka meteorites) do deserve some serious attention, viz. Tunguska, 1908—but that strange and powerful civilizations, evolved on planets orbiting those same points of light embellishing the night sky, may make it their next New Year’s resolution to attack and conquer a defenseless Earth.
Anybody else blaming Herbert George Wells please raise your hands.
Let it be entered into evidence that prior to The War Of The Worlds (1897) all imagined aliens (literary or not) were considered benign, when not decidedly saintly and having a soft spot for their laughingly naïve earthly cousins, as in Voltaire’s Micromegas. It was only, alas, after Wells’ tale of bellicose Martians braving a crippling gravity to go on to beat the earthlings with weapons resulting from a vastly superior technology that the idea of conquerors out of space started to draw some attention.
While so far we seem to be living in a safe neighborhood—no signs of civilizations, the nasty kind or else, have been detected from Mercury to the Kuiper Belt apart from our own, which we don’t propose to label here—the sea of stars up above could very well, we are told, be a different story (pun shamelessly intended). Not that long ago, the late world-renowned
astrophysicist Hawking warned us against the perils of advertising our presence here to the universe at large; like, say, insisting on such adolescent behavior as beaming radio messages at star cluster M13 or (the horror!) even irresponsibly inflicting our musical tastes on any entities out there retrieving the records on Voyagers 1 and 2. (What conceivable retaliation could follow listening to Johnny B. Goode is an alarming thought.)
It is, to be sure, a little late for that, and not only because those proofs of our existence have already been sent on their way. Granted, the 1974 message sent from the Arecibo, Puerto Rico, radio telescope (consisting of 1,679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2,380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 450 kW, with a total duration of less than three minutes) will merely take some 25,000 years to reach its target, and anyway it was intended more as a technology exercise than a real hello. Voyager 1, more in keeping with certain post office standards for delivery of packages, will instead take some 40,000 years to come within shouting distance of star AC 79 3888.
All of which would seem to suggest we still have some time to prepare ourselves to be gallantly—and inevitably—defeated by that superior alien technology. Except, of course, we may not have that long: Ever since 1920 a lot of our radio, and then later also TV transmissions, passing with relative ease through the ionosphere, conceivably have given us already away decades ago to any alien civilization out there.
So there. What can we possibly do?
(To be continued…)