spaceSpace and Physics

Why Stephen Hawking Said We Should Be "Wary" About Contacting Aliens


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockSep 23 2016, 18:01 UTC

Hawking made the comments in a new documentary. CuriosityStream

In a program, Stephen Hawking once cautioned against trying to get in contact with an alien civilization.

The words of warning were given during a half-hour documentary called "Stephen Hawking's Favorite Places", where the British physicist traveled through the universe onboard the fictional SS Hawking.


The program, which is available on the subscription service CuriosityStream, focuses on many unique locations in the cosmos. Among these, there’s Gliese 832c, a super-Earth found relatively close to the Solar System at just 16 light-years away.

"If intelligent life has evolved [on Gliese 832c], we should be able to hear it," said Hawking. "One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well."

The warning was about what we might encounter, as well as a stark reminder of our past horrors. He had previously stated that we only have to look at humans to imagine a civilization that we wouldn’t want to meet.


While Hawking wanted us to be cautious about contacting them, he was definitely interested in us finding these potential aliens first.

He was involved in the Breakthrough Initiative, where $100 million was pledged in 2015 for the most comprehensive search of radio signals from intelligent life beyond the Solar System. Specifically called Breakthrough Listen, aims to be so precise that it could detect an aircraft radar emitted by any of the closest 1,000 stars.

Listening is not the only plan for the project. Breakthrough Starshot aims to make interstellar exploration a reality, taking tiny spacecraft all the way to our nearest star (Proxima Centauri) in just over 20 years. Having recently discovered a planet orbiting the system, this might turn out to be an even more crucial mission than originally planned.


There’s no indication that we are on the verge of finding aliens; in fact, we might actually be one of the first intelligent life forms in the universe. Sill, perhaps it's worth being careful when it comes to inviting another civilization to visit.

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