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SYFY WIRE aliens

Scientists say aliens could contact us as soon as 2029

We're waiting!

By Cassidy Ward
Reginald and Resident Alien Collide: Vampires vs. Aliens

Aliens hold a special place in our collective consciousness, as both heralds of a great new future and harbingers of planetary doom. If they’re able to visit us at all, it means their technological capabilities far outpace our own, and our nascent species will be beholden to their extraterrestrial whims. Whether those whims are any fun are not, depends on whether they are friend or foe. SYFY’s own Resident Alien (streaming now on Peacock!) walks that tightrope through the character of Alan Tudyk's Harry Vanderspeigle, a conquering alien turned small town resident in disguise. If and when he reveals himself to the wider world, or if his friends show up to make good on their planetary threat, the world will be forever changed.

So far, alien interactions exist only in the domain of fiction, but that might be changing sooner than you think. Enjoy the comparatively simple life you have today, because things could be very different in a handful of years. If Ray Kurzweil is correct (and his track record is pretty good so far), we’re all staring down the barrel of immortality by 2029, but that’s not all! You might be able to spend your newfound everlasting life hanging out with aliens. That’s according to a recent study co-authored by Reilly Derrick and Howard Isaacson from UCLA and UC Berkeley, respectively, and published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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When we consider the vast number of stars and worlds in the observable universe, it starts to feel pretty weird that we haven’t found anyone else yet. Even if life is exceedingly rare, there should be millions of civilizations out there waiting to be found. Yet, the question remains: where are they? It’s possible that we’re all alone in the universe, an island of complexity in an otherwise sterile existence. It’s also possible aliens are whizzing around all the time and just don’t care to talk to us. Perhaps the most likely explanation for our apparent loneliness is the vastness of space and time itself.

In order to have a conversation, our signals first need to reach an alien intelligence, and the travel time of our messages are limited by the universal speed limit: the speed of light. Then, assuming there is someone to receive our signals at the other end, they have to send a response back our way, which takes the same amount of time. It might be that we haven’t heard from anyone yet because we only just placed the call a cosmic second ago, and the interstellar operator hasn’t had time to connect us yet.

Our first opportunity to talk with our extraterrestrial neighbors is coming up quickly, and when it does, humanity will step into a different world, one in which there is the real possibility of alien contact. And it all traces back to Voyager 1. When the first Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 with its golden record, an ambassador to the stars, it was embarking on a journey that would last decades, maybe forever.

Voyager 1 entering interstellar space

Voyager 1 spent the better part of four decades traversing the solar system until, in 2012, it exited the heliosphere. That’s the area of space surrounding the Sun, inside of which the solar wind has a significant impact. It’s a way to define what is inside of and outside of the solar system. Even now, almost 50 years since Voyager 1’s launch, it is still operational, still sending and receiving signals. Those signals, however, don’t stop when they reach the spacecraft. Instead, they continue racing off in the direction Voyager is traveling, where they might come into contact with intelligent life.

Derrick and Isaacson traced the path of Voyager 1 as well as Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, and New Horizons. Then they bumped those paths up against the Gaia Catalogue of Nearby Stars to find locations where our signals might cross paths with intelligent life. That allowed them to identify stars of interest and calculate the signal transit times for those locations. In simple terms, they looked at where the signals were going, pointed out any stars along that path that might have life, and figured how long it would take anyone living there to receive our messages and send an answer.

RELATED: Contact, SETI, and the science of searching for alien life

In a perfect universe we’d get a hit on the first try, and if we do, we could get an answer as early as 2029. The first opportunity for contact identified in the study ties back to transmissions from Pioneer 10, which reached the white dwarf Gaia EDR2 2611561706216413696 in 2002. The star lies at a distance of 8.54 parsecs (27.6 light years and shorter than the Kessel Run), which means any response would take just shy of 28 years to reach us. Assuming someone got our message in 2002 and sent a hasty response, it’ll be here in about six years.

Even if that first opportunity is a miss, the paper outlines possible connection points for all five of the studied spacecraft, stretching out to 2257. Someone is bound to answer eventually, and it could happen any day now. Let’s just hope that when someone picks up, we like what they have to say.

Catch Resident Alien, streaming right now on Peacock