Scientists blast out Earth’s location with the hope of reaching aliens

The Large Magellanic Cloud, the largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Accurate estimates of the distance to this galaxy help calibrate measurements of the expansion rate of the Universe.

The Large Magellanic Cloud, the largest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Accurate estimates of the distance to this galaxy help calibrate measurements of the expansion rate of the Universe. (credit: Robert Gendler/Josch Hambsch)

If a person is lost in the wilderness, they have two options. They can search for civilization, or they could make themselves easy to spot by building a fire or writing HELP in big letters. For scientists interested in the question of whether intelligent aliens exist, the options are much the same.

For over 70 years, astronomers have been scanning for radio or optical signals from other civilizations in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, called SETI. Most scientists are confident that life exists on many of the 300 million potentially habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers also think there is a decent chance some life forms have developed intelligence and technology. But no signals from another civilization have ever been detected, a mystery that is called “The Great Silence.”

While SETI has long been a part of mainstream science, METI, or messaging extraterrestrial intelligence, has been less common.

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