Communication style, substance critical at moment of first contact


A gold record was stashed on Voyager I 41 years ago, and is now hurtling through interstellar space. (NASA / Wikimedia Commons)

MYSTERY WIRE — Images from popular culture shape our vision of the moment when we come face to face with the reality that we are not alone in the universe. Among the most well-known:

  • “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (theme: don’t hurt the aliens)
  • “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (among the first optimistic views)
  • “Independence Day” (technically, second contact if we had alien bodies at Area 51, but they are evil, either way)
  • “Contact” (aliens send us a blueprint for visiting them)

TELL US ON TWITTER: Of all the movies out there, which ones are on the mark?

Many movies in the genre touch on the question of how we should communicate when first contact happens. But few of them reflect the sobering statement in “First Contact: What Happens When We Meet Aliens,” published on

“Our only real defense will be communication: Our ability to somehow let our visitors know that we harbor no ill intentions toward them.”

A.S. Deller, for

The article offers a smart survey of science, religion, previous efforts and human preparedness for the moment.

It’s not a new debate, but it’s a lively one. The U.S. government put some thought into it more than 40 years ago when the Voyager probes were launched. Voyager I — now beyond the bounds of our solar system and hurtling through interstellar space — was outfitted with a gold record that includes images and recordings. If it is ever found, it will be a relic, both in technology and in the state of human affairs.

The article references a plan drafted in 2018 by Nick Pope, a British defense official who worked partially on investigating UFO reports. The plan lays out a detailed approach to preparing for first contact.

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