In April last year NASA made the announcement that they had discovered an earth-like planet, Kepler-186f, orbiting the "habitable zone" of red dwarf Kepler-18, which is around 490 light years from earth.
The planet was discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope, which was launched by NASA in 2009 to look for earth-like planets orbiting other stars.
"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington, said at the time. "Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."
While Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California said: "We know of just one planet where life exists—Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth. Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward."
The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute have historically searched for signs of alien life throughout the cosmos, but recently they came into some controversy because they now want to actively send communications, rather than just passively look for them.
SETI search for signals of ETs using radio telescopes, but they are now proposing a more proactive way of looking for aliens. Called METI (Messages to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) or Active SETI they want to beam radio messages, possibly over hundreds of years, to places identified by Kepler as potentially harboring life or alien civilisations.
People have expressed concern with this approach though, saying that it could be inviting our own destruction from ill-meaning aliens. We've all seen Alien, right? Or Independence Day? Well, some scientists are worried that by sending out messages we might set about out own doom in a similar way.
Dr. Seth Shostak, director of the SETI Institute, doesn't agree. "I don't see why the aliens would have any incentive to do that," he told the BBC. "Beyond that, we have been telling them willy-nilly that we are here for 70 years now. They are not very interesting messages but the early TV broadcasts, the early radio, the radar from the Second World War—all that has leaked off the Earth. Any society that could come here and ruin our whole day by incinerating the planet already knows we are here."
The pros and cons of the idea were recently debated at a workshop, where arguments from both cases were put across. Also being debated was exactly what would be sent if Active SETI did go ahead.
Dr. Shostak has a pretty bold idea. "My personal preference is to send the internet—send it all because if you send a lot of information then there's some chance that they'll work it out."
It's interesting, if possibly dangerous. I mean, who knows how aliens might react to rule 34? Or Furries? Or 4chan? Or Justin Bieber? On the plus side, if they're an advanced civilisation evolved from cats they may look kindly upon us.