50 years ago, Earth’s chances of contacting E.T. looked slim

Excerpt from the February 24, 1973 issue of Science News

A photo of the Golden Record and its cover from the Voyager spacecraft.

Should aliens ever encounter NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, they’ll find the Golden Record (left, cover shown right), which is packed with sounds and images of Earth.


The chances of contacting extraterrestrial civilizations seem poorScience News, February 24, 1973

The possibility of life … on other planets has stimulated many people’s i­maginations…. In the Feb. 9 Nature, James C. G. Walker of Yale University studies the possible parameters of such a search and comes to some pessimistic conclusions.


Walker estimated it could take 1,400 to 14 million years to contact E.T. with the available technology. That’s way longer than researchers have spent listening for alien radio signals and scouring the sky with telescopes and satellites (SN: 11/21/20, p. 18).

Despite the silence, scientists have sent their own messages into the void. In 1974, Earth sent a string of binary code from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Years later, arguably the most famous message — the Golden Record — made its way to space aboard NASA spacecraft (SN: 8/20/77, p. 124).

If aliens ever reach out, they may send quantum dispatches, scientists say (SN: 8/13/22, p. 5). Even so, the aliens are likely so far from Earth that their civilization will have collapsed by the time we get the message (SN: 4/14/18, p. 9).

Erin I. Garcia de Jesus is a staff writer at Science News. She holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington and a master’s in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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