Through the Wormhole s03e01 Episode Script

Will We Survive First Contact?

Human civilization everything we can know, feel and hope for is for us here on Earth.
A ball of rock, just 8 thousand miles wide.
But out there, across the vast heavens there could be countless other civilizations each with knowledge, history, and ambition vastly different from our own.
And one day, perhaps sooner than think humanity and alien civilization will collide.
How will that day change us? Will it be our greatest leap forward? Or the end of everything we know? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
Think of everything you learned in school.
Think of everything that Einstein, Buddha and Shakespeare knew.
The entire experience of humanity is overwhelming to a single mind.
But if aliens are out there, all that is nothing compared with the sum total of knowledge in the galaxy.
The day we make first contact with an alien race will be the dawn of a new era for humanity.
It could spur a renaissance that will change us utterly.
Or it could be the darkest day in human history.
Most kids in the '40s and '50s grew up reading tales of adventure on other worlds.
And most of us imagined we were Earth's first line of defense against alien invaders.
These days, I would like to think we were wrong, that extraterrestrials might be friendly.
But many scientists believe basic forces of biology make aggressive aliens a safer bet.
Charles Cockell is a Professor of Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
He thinks deeply about alien life and how evolution might determine their actions at first contact.
It's not clear that a civilization just because it can travel through space would be altruistic.
Humanity, for example, landed spacecraft on the freezing moon of Titan, and yet we still go to war.
So it's not the case that technological advancement necessarily is -- comes hand in hand with altruism, and it's possible that an alien civilization could actually be quite dangerous.
Charles studies the forces of evolution that gave us the intelligence necessary for an advanced civilization, forces he believes could drive aliens to tear ours apart.
It's a question of autotrophs or heterotrophs, or in layman's terms What's for dinner? An autotroph is a type of life that uses light as a source of energy.
For example, the grass here is an autotrophic organism.
It's using sunlight from the sky to power itself and to grow and reproduce.
Autotrophs generally are not intelligent.
Gathering sunlight is a very good way of gathering energy, but it never really gathers sufficient energy for a creature to become intelligent.
Autotrophs have another weakness.
They're easy prey for heterotrophs.
These sheep behind me, these are heterotrophs, but they're feeding off autotrophs.
They're feeding off the grass in this field.
Charles believes that the food chain is just as real of a force for alien life as it is for terrestrials.
The smarter the creature, the more food it must consume to keep its brain working.
All right.
Just what I ordered.
You can see the hors d'oeuvre I have here, and you can get some idea of the amount of grass I would have to eat a day to power a sheep's brain.
But it's a completely different matter when you need to power a human brain.
If we spent all of our waking hours eating the pounds of grass it takes just to power our brain, we would have little time for the imagination and ambition that sent us to the Moon.
But nature provides a solution.
It's not pretty, but it is a fact of life.
Thank you.
Our massive brains require colossal amounts of energy.
And being a predator is the cleanest, quickest, and most effective way to acquire the energy necessary for advanced intelligence, whether human or alien.
Intelligent creatures, particularly very intelligent creatures, would be predatory.
They would be at the end of a food chain, and they would eat other creatures that would eat other creatures.
So they're bound to be predatory in some way.
Charles is confident that at first contact, we will meet an intelligent race of predators, predators that most likely developed a war-like culture just like ours.
Conflict in human beings is definitely linked to predation.
It's all about grasping territory.
It's all about having resources and commanding those resources in times of a famine or in times of difficulty.
Predatory aliens who show up on our doorstep may well be in need of new resources.
If so, the existence of humanity could be in jeopardy.
If they need oxygen to burn their food, just as in the same way we need oxygen to burn our food, they might find the environmental conditions on this planet very conducive for their civilization.
And oxygen-bearing planets like ours with high levels of oxygen in the atmosphere might actually be quite rare in the universe.
And when you find them, they might be good places to go.
It is a scenario we usually see in the movies.
Aliens arrive as a conquering armada, and mankind engages them in a desperate battle for survival.
But one scientist begs to differ.
Let's say that a civilization is hostile.
Hollywood has brainwashed us into thinking that it's gonna be a Titanic battle between David and Goliath.
I mean, give me a break.
More than likely, it's gonna be between Bambi and Godzilla.
Physicist Michio Kaku of the City College of New York tries to be more scientific about mankind's relationship to alien civilizations.
We physicists like to classify alien civilizations in outer space by energy.
A type-one civilization harnesses planetary power.
They can, for example, control hurricanes, control volcanoes.
Type two can control an entire star.
They play with stars.
Type three controls the power of an entire galaxy.
On this cosmic scale of energy, what are we? Do we control hurricanes and volcanoes? Do we play with stars? Do we roam across the space lanes of the galaxy? No.
We are type zero.
We don't even rate on the scale.
But we may have a chance to survive in the galactic jungle after all.
Michio believes that we can rise in the ranks of civilization by learning from our superior neighbors.
And the safest way to acquire their knowledge Is eavesdropping.
Even aliens have to obey the laws of physics, and the laws of physics tell us that electromagnetic radiation is the fastest, most convenient way to communicate between stars.
The heavens are buzzing with electromagnetic radiation.
Almost all of it occurs naturally.
And around Earth, most is manmade.
But buried in all that static could be some radiation that aliens are using to send a message.
Finding such an alien signal is really tough, like looking for a single car in the swarm of traffic that clogs the streets of New York City.
We send messages by electromagnetic radiation, whether it's in the form of e-mail, radio, radar, microwaves, F.
, or A.
Let's say that this car represents a message that we send into outer space.
Most messages are sent by you and me, by the human family.
However, what I'm looking for is much more rare.
I'm looking for this -- a message sent by an alien civilization using electromagnetic radiation.
For the past 40 years, armies of large radio telescopes have tuned into the frequencies of the Universe, just like turning the radio dial to find a station.
So far, scientists have heard only empty static.
But Michio believes that is because they have been listening the wrong way.
We are only listening to one frequency at a time among an infinite number of possible frequencies.
It's like trying to find this alien decal on a car on a freeway by taking pictures.
How long would it take for me to finally identify that alien decal? A week? Months? Years? Maybe even never.
Michio believes that even if we stumble upon an elusive alien message, we might not even recognize it.
There may still be hope to discover these rare signals, however, if we broaden our perspective.
Let's say that I want to send this alien message across outer space.
And let's say that each car represents a photon vibrating at a certain frequency.
Well, perhaps the silliest way to send such a message is to put the entire message on one photon at one frequency.
The message could be lost.
The message could be degraded.
A more efficient way is to cut up the message into different frequencies, creating what is called a broadband, and then you put each fragment of the message on each photon.
Using multiple channels to send a message is faster in the same way broadband is faster than dial-up.
But if aliens communicate this way, their signals would be harder to detect.
Now, here's the irony.
If you were to eavesdrop on an alien conversation and you would pick up all these pieces, you would just hear gibberish.
So in other words, we could be in the middle of an intergalactic conversation and not even know it.
If Michio is correct, the heavens could be filled with alien chatter.
We do not see this radio traffic because our signal-frequency search only picks up fragments of their conversations.
But if we were to look at the broadband, we might find what has been there all along.
If we do learn to detect alien communication, how can we ever hope to understand it? What language would they speak? Now, one scientist believes he knows how to crack the code of any language, no matter how alien.
Around the world, we speak to each other in about Most of us understand only one or two.
But there is no living language that cannot be translated, because they all have one thing in common -- the human brain.
What languages might alien brains create? Could we ever hope to understand them? Could we even recognize their communication as language at all? Well, I actually only speak English and Swahili a little bit.
I've learned a little Navajo, and I can write a little bit in Cherokee.
Oh, I took Russian, too, for a couple years.
Laurance Doyle is a communications expert with the Institute of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI.
He is working to add one more language to his list, one no human has ever spoken.
Bottle-nose dolphins are perfect.
We know they're intelligent.
Seriously, Chomp.
Wow, that's interesting.
They communicate in very complex ways.
They make bubbles.
They play.
They have complex society.
But we don't have any common reference system.
We can't talk about movies.
We can't talk about the most elementary things.
Laurance decided to see whether he could extract any meaning from dolphin speak.
He and his colleagues recorded and studied hundreds of hours of dolphin chatter.
Because they have this huge range over which they can communicate.
When you look at the relationship of whistles, a structure starts to emerge that's not unlike syntax in human languages.
But are these whistles and clicks an actual language, one that could be translated? Laurance searched for patterns in the sounds using a statistical technique called information theory, a theory powerful enough to find a needle of meaning in a haystack noise.
Information theory is built on the probability of occurrence of a given signal.
How often does it occur, and how often does it have a relationship with other signals in that occurrence? "Perseus best wishes tiger cow accepting printing ink hydro lories shovel in" So, this is kind of a random distribution of words.
I can add up how frequently each word occurs.
What I am going to get from this random distribution of words is that each word occurs with about the same equal frequency.
In this page of gibberish, plotting a chart of words against how often they are used gives us a straight line.
That means there's virtually no linguistic information being transmitted.
It is a random distribution, and you can't actually transmit knowledge this way.
A message with meaning and information shows an entirely different pattern.
"No one would have believed in the last years "of the 19th century "that this world was being watched keenly "and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own.
" According to Laurance, all languages, be they human, dolphin, or alien, must have common and uncommon words.
The most common words are ranked in descending order from left to right.
Well, the most frequent word here is "the," and it'll appear here.
The second-most frequent word is probably "of.
" When plots this word chart from a message that is not gibberish, a pattern emerges.
This is a plot of a frequency of occurrence, and this is the words in "War of the Worlds.
" And we see that it has this 45-degree slope.
So this is a way to tell if there's linguistic or knowledge content within a random page even if you don't understand what the symbols mean.
This 45-degree slope appears for any message in any language, in any medium, be it a book in French or a phone call in Japanese.
And when Laurance's team applied information theory to the chatter of dolphins, a 45-degree slope emerged.
This was proof right away, without understanding what the dolphin signals are, that dolphins are transmitting knowledge to each other.
Laurance has not yet learned to speak dolphin, but knowing a language when we hear it is the first step.
And he is now applying the same technique to the electromagnetic buzz that fills the Milky Way.
There are all sorts of things in space that make noises.
We could examine each one and find out which one's random and which has the information we're looking for, has a sign of intelligence.
Even if alien communication sounds like empty noise to the human ear, it will still produce a 45-degree slope.
We can now actually start to examine the complexity of the message, and that's gonna tell us something about the species that sent it.
And that's why you want to practice on non-human species on Earth.
Thank you.
You were lovely.
I think that was dolphin for "see you later.
" But we may not have to wait to intercept an alien message to make first contact.
Many scientists now suspect an advanced spacecraft will soon forge a direct link between two worlds.
And that spacecraft could come From Earth.
In 1903, Orville Wright guided the first powered flight in human history.
He traveled just over 100 feet.
Only 66 years later, three men flew a quarter of a million miles and landed on the Moon.
The next quantum leap in travel may be close at hand.
It would take us trillions of miles from Earth, and we could find aliens before they find us.
And that is thanks in part to this man.
John Brophy works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
His expertise Is exotic propulsion.
So, this is an ordinary balloon, and I'm gonna rub it on my hair, which will separate some of the charges, leaving a net charge on the balloon, which will allow it to stick on my shirt.
The same force that holds a balloon to a piece of fabric can be used in reverse to push a vessel through space.
So, as we just illustrated where we can use oppositely charged particles to attract each other, if we use particles with the same charges, we can actually repel them.
This electrical repulsion is the heart of John's revolutionary machine, the Ion engine.
Xenon gas is ionized with a positive charge, then placed against the engine's positively charged body.
And those like charges repel each other and push the ions out at a very high speed.
And by pushing the ions out, it pushes the spacecraft in the other direction.
NASA recently charted John's Ion engine to send the Dawn spacecraft on a two-billion-mile journey to the asteroid belt.
The engine stayed lit for more than three years.
This groundbreaking achievement was made possible by the same high-performance engineering found in the unbridled, uncompromising, unrelenting power of an all-American golf cart.
We're gonna have a race between these two vehicles.
And it looks like an unfair race, but actually, we're gonna give each vehicle the same amount of fuel, and we're gonna see how far and how fast these two vehicles go.
Unlike the fuel-guzzling chemical rockets that took us to the moon, the Dawn spacecraft is an extremely fuel-efficient vehicle.
But, like the golf cart, it's a bit slow off the mark.
The Dawn spacecraft, it accelerates very slowly like we've done.
In fact, it'll go 0 to 60 miles an hour in about four days.
So, not something you'd write home about.
But, after four years, it'll be going over 26,000 miles an hour and have used only 60 gallons of fuel.
It is exquisitely fuel-efficient.
The old chemical rocket gets going faster, but it burns out quickly.
An ion-powered spacecraft, however, can keep on accelerating for years and eventually travel faster and farther than a chemical rocket ever could.
It's completely impractical to use chemical-rocket technology to travel to the stars, and that's because you just cannot carry enough propellent to make that trip.
The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 25 trillion miles away.
That is a very long journey.
Imagine the sun at the center of this quarter and Pluto's orbit around the outside edge of the quarter.
Every planet that you learned about in school, everybody that you know is contained within this quarter.
With our current electric-propulsion technology or advances that we can readily make, we can get around this region of space relatively well.
What we really want to do is see what it takes to get to the nearest star.
The question is, where is that? And this is the closest star.
Astronomers now believe there are 17 alien solar systems within 100 trillion miles of Earth.
With some engineering improvements, future versions of John's Ion engine could reach any of these new worlds.
But for the foreseeable future, an ion-powered vessel will not have the power to take human beings along for the ride.
The payloads have to be small to go to the stars primarily because you have to accelerate that mass to a very high speed, and the lighter weight the vehicle is, the easier that is to do.
One day, an alien spacecraft will pierce the clouds of an unexplored world.
And the aliens might be us.
Crossing the vast emptiness of space is not the only challenge of making first contact.
We must also figure out what we're going to say when we get there.
How does one communicate across language barriers? Here on Earth, our faces can express fear, love, or happiness even better than words sometimes.
But what ideas and emotions could we share with aliens, and how can we avoid sending the wrong message? There's a story from U.
soldiers in Iraq.
They wanted cars to stop at a checkpoint.
They used what they thought was a universal symbol for "stop" by holding up their out-raised palm.
Unfortunately for the people in Iraq, this is the symbol also for "welcome," not "stop.
" So the cars kept approaching the checkpoint even though the soldiers were signaling violently for them to stop.
Jim Kakalios is a physicist who explores the hard science behind the dreams of science fiction.
He thinks he has identified a universal communication medium.
We're all familiar with waves -- sound waves, light waves.
Ever matter has waves -- or water waves.
Any disturbance on the surface, and we get mechanical vibrations on the surface.
The molecules move up and down but coherently, forming concentric rings that expand outwards.
Because waves move in predictable and regimented ways, they could be used to communicate mathematics, a language any advanced civilization will surely understand.
But waves do not add and subtract like numbers.
We're used to arithmetic based upon the counting of objects -- one apple and two apples equals three apples.
But if you were to base mathematics based upon the addition of waves, such as light waves, sometimes it works, sometimes you get confusing results.
Here, we've assigned numbers to the different colors of light.
One for red, two for orange, and so on.
If I take a one, red light, and a five, blue light, add them together, and I get six, purple light.
That works.
But it doesn't always work.
Let's try another color combination.
One is red.
Three is yellow.
One plus three should give us four, green.
But no, we get orange -- two.
One plus three equals two? That doesn't seem right.
Even though they do not add up like simple numbers, it is still possible to communicate complex mathematical ideas through waves.
Because whether they move in water, light, or the air around us, all waves have frequencies.
If you can give me a "C" Very good.
And how about a bouncy "G" sharp? Those are two distinct frequencies.
Aliens may describe the frequency of a wave with numbers that are indecipherable to us.
But the ratio between those two frequencies will always be the same, no matter what number system is used.
And the ratios could be the key to two species expressing their knowledge of the fundamental laws of the universe.
Measure the circumference of a circle.
Now divide by its diameter.
The ratio is the number pi, or about 3.
No matter what unit you used to make the measurements -- inches, your arms Or anything else -- the ratio pi will always be the answer, and pi is one of only a handful of fundamental ratios in the universe.
They must certainly have noticed this because it is so common.
It is one of the foundations of our understanding of nature.
At first contact, we could beam aliens a pair of waves, the ratio of their frequencies equal to pi.
We could send another pair whose ratio is the same as the ratio of the proton mass to the electron mass.
Sending these messages would prove we understand the physics of the universe around us.
There's no guarantee it will work, but there's another way of looking at a series of changing frequencies.
On Earth, we call it music.
If aliens lack ears, they might still be able to appreciate the performance of the high-tech rock band Arcattack, because Arcattack can play the same song simultaneously in sound waves, light waves, and the buzzing discharge of one-million-volt Tesla coils.
A Tesla coil generates waves both in radio-wave signals and electric fields.
It generates heat by heating up the atmosphere.
It generates sound, and it generates light.
This performance could initiate the greatest peaceful exchange of knowledge in our existence.
We could try one of the most beautiful pieces of music that we have developed.
It may just get on their nerves.
But what if aliens will not or cannot meet us face-to-face? There is still a chance to make contact, because aliens could have already sent us a message hidden on Earth for hundreds of millions of years.
If you compress the entire history of planet Earth into 24 hours, human beings would only appear in the final few seconds.
If aliens have already come here, we probably were not around to greet them.
But what if they left a record of their visit? Where would it be? One scientist thinks he may have found it, hiding inside us all.
Paul Davies is a physicist and astrobiologist who has spent many years trying to work out how aliens might communicate with us.
And he has realized it is all about timing.
Let me make a call on this cellphone.
It's ringing.
An electromagnetic signal flies through space at the speed of light, and it only passes by our antennas for a fleeting moment.
Hello? If the person at the other end doesn't connect with me, the message has gone off in these radio waves off out into space off into the proverbial ether, never to return, and they're lost.
If aliens wanted to make contact, Paul believes they would choose to send messages with much more staying power.
I'm scratching a message in a rock here in the way that people have been doing it for thousands and thousands of years.
And why do they do it? Well, it's a message for posterity.
This thing will be around for a long, long time.
But even a rock will eventually crumble or get buried.
Paul discovered that there is a material on earth that could preserve a message for tens of millions of years.
We all have it Inside us.
Every living organism on earth carries genetic information encoded in a molecule called DNA.
It's a whole sequence of molecular information, which carry all that is needed to reconstruct that organism and to enable it to go about its business.
So we've got genes in our bodies dating back billions of years.
DNA is made up of four chemical building blocks -- adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine.
The particular arrangement of those blocks creates a unique genetic code, instructions for building our bodies from proteins and other materials.
But not all of that code is used.
You total up the length of each gene, and you soon see that only a small fraction of the total amount of DNA in our bodies is actually coding for proteins.
So what you've got in this big, dark, mysterious chunk of DNA, the majority of it is undoubtedly some real junk.
Think of one person's genetic code like objects in a house.
Most everything an individual needs is easily found.
But not everything is out in the open.
If you look around, what you see is some functional space used every day.
And then when you go down to the garage, you see some space that really is storage.
It contains things that we may never use for years and years on end but we haven't thrown out, and if we move house, probably will take it with us to the next place.
Nearly every living thing carries this genetic junk, innocuous sequences of DNA that are faithfully passed along for countless generations.
Paul realized this junk DNA could be the perfect hiding place for a coded message.
Imagine that there is some way that we could etch or embellish the fundamental structure of DNA with some sort of message, in such a way that it didn't compromise the functionality of the organism.
Then it could endure for tens of millions of years or even longer.
Paul believes that long ago, alien genetic engineers could have rearranged sequences of DNA inside living organisms on Earth, maybe in our earliest mammalian ancestors.
Their descendants would carry the message through the eons unnoticed, until one of them is finally smart enough to sample his own DNA and read the message.
Researchers have begun scouring the genetic code of humans and other species, searching for unusual patterns in DNA.
It is an endeavor called genomic SETI.
Supposing you saw a sequence of prime numbers spelled out in the language of DNA, which is the four bases -- "A," "G," "C," and "T.
" Well, there's no way that natural selection would ever produce such a thing.
It would leap out at you as being of obviously artificial origin.
If genomic SETI does find something, one of the first questions we will ask is, "Why did aliens go through all the trouble of sending such a message?" People have all sorts of different ideas.
Some people think, "Well, could be a religious symbol.
" Some people, "it could be a monument.
" We go to Egypt, for example.
We see these huge monuments.
What are they for? Well, they're for posterity.
They're put there because people feel that their civilization was great, it has something, it can speak to people all down the generations, they want to leave something behind.
A message in our DNA could also communicate something much more fundamental -- that DNA is the language of all life in the galaxy.
It sounds like wild speculation, but it is not, because this man may have found the common bond between us and alien life.
We have always looked to the stars in our effort to make contact with aliens.
Now that quest could be taking an unexpected turn, because we may find a link between ourselves and aliens, not in the heavens but in the life-creating code of DNA.
In the vast, frozen emptiness of Antarctica, researchers recently stumbled across fragments of a four-billion-year-old meteorite, a piece of cosmic shrapnel that dates back to the very birth of our solar system.
This is one of the most precious objects known to man.
Unscathed, it is worth a small fortune.
But sometimes science requires sacrifice.
First thing I'm thinking to myself is, "don't mess up.
Don't mess up, and don't cough on it.
" Mike Callahan is a chemist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
His studies focus on a rare type of meteorite called carbonaceous chondrites.
These meteorites are very, very rich in carbon and contain a wealth of organic molecules.
You can think of our meteorite extractions kind of like making a cup of tea.
When we place the tea bag into our liquid, you can see that you're extracting out all the herbs and all the flavors into your solution, and this is what we're doing with our meteorite.
Mike is trying to brew up conclusive evidence that molecules essential to life were present in space rocks People have found lots of interesting molecules such as amino acids, which are the building blocks of your proteins, and other essential molecule in other meteorites for years.
But there was always this missing puzzle piece with nucleobases.
That's been a scientific question that's been out there for over 50 years.
Nucleobases are the letters of DNA -- "A," "G," "C," and "T" -- the molecules that zip together the double helix.
For decades, biochemists have struggled to synthesize them and puzzle over how they could have been created on our primordial earth.
But in Mike's meteorite tea, the answer may finally have arrived.
We find these simple building blocks, these nucleobases, like adenine and guanine, in meteorites.
The same molecules that make up the DNA common to all life on Earth have existed in outer space for billions of years.
They were created when our solar system formed.
It's amazing when you start looking at what's inside these meteorites, what you actually truly find.
And now we're looking at this and thinking, ell, if these meteorites are coming into Earth "and now they're being scattered everywhere in the solar system, "everywhere in the universe, "I think maybe aliens do look very similar to us, because maybe we're all composed of the same building blocks.
" Mike's finding shows that the building blocks of DNA could be scattered all over the galaxy, that DNA might be the basis not just of life on Earth but of alien life, as well.
First contact could be with our distant cosmic cousins.
But there's no guarantee it will be a warm family reunion for them or us.
The impact of a first contact would be absolutely stupendous, on the level of the discovery of fire.
We would have access to new technologies that would solve some of our immediate problems.
But the big problem is, we'll also need to have the wisdom to be able to implement those changes in a way that won't cause massive economic and social disruption.
That wisdom part is really difficult.
An extraterrestrial signal, I think, would begin to go, "Guys, we're inhabitants of the galaxy, "and we have to start thinking that way.
It's time to grow up.
" One thing we do is think a lot more about the planet.
"Oh, my gosh.
"We've got this giant spaceship called planet Earth, and we better take care of it.
It could happen tomorrow, or a message from aliens could already be here, waiting to be discovered.
But when we finally experience first contact, our species will be forced to come of age.
To realize, that we are members of a family of life forms that inhabit the cosmos.