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未来系列:与外星生命的接触

Contact with Alien Life

原作者:A’liya Spinner

First Contact

首次接触

Today was the day. For over a century, we had been anticipating it, dreading it, praying for it. Hospitals, authorities, and schoolchildren in their classrooms waited with bated breath; they aimed missiles at the sky from every continent. A coalition of leaders from each nation, every creed, sat together in nervous silence, their eyes on satellite feeds and news reports. Their parents and their parents’ parents had grown up in the waiting world, knowing the day was rapidly approaching. And now it was here.

这一天终于到了。一个多世纪以来,我们一直在期待它,害怕它,为它祈祷。医院、当局和学生在教室里屏息等待;他们从各大洲向天空发射导弹。来自每个国家、每个信仰的领导人组成的联盟,在紧张的沉默中坐在一起,他们的眼睛盯着卫星信号和新闻报道。他们的父母和父母的父母在等待的世界里长大,知道这一天很快就要到来了。现在它就在这里。

One hundred years ago, we received a transmission from deep space, unintelligible but undeniably intelligent in origin. It took us a year more to decipher it, passing it between countries and scientists, the general public and supercomputers, looking for patterns, for a breakthrough. When they had finally decoded it, it was a future date, announced by a mathematical description of the position of the stars in reference to the center of the galaxy. The date was set, and the countdown began.

一百年前,我们收到了来自深太空的信号,虽然无法理解,但不可否认,它的起源是智能的。我们花了一年多的时间来破译它,在各国和科学家、公众和超级计算机之间传递它,寻找模式,寻求突破。当他们最终解码后,这是一个未来的日期,通过对恒星相对于星系中心位置的数学描述来宣布。日期确定了,倒计时开始了。

At first, there was talk of impending Armageddon, of the aliens coming to destroy us all, or at least to cull the unworthy. Others waited eagerly for our salvation, when the extraterrestrials would lift us from our primitive, Earth-bound ways. Many simply did not believe; they called the whole thing a hoax to frighten us into obedience, and ignored or criticized the approaching day. Scientists and curators of science-fiction remained eager but skeptical, unsure if the aliens spelled doom or hope, or something in between, or if they would even arrive at all.

一开始,有人说世界末日即将来临,外星人来毁灭我们所有人,或者至少是为了扑杀不值得的人。其他人急切地等待着我们的救赎,当外星人将我们从原始的,地球束缚的方式。许多人根本不相信;他们称整件事是一场恶作剧,以吓唬我们服从,并忽视或批评即将到来的一天。科学家和科幻小说的策展人仍然热切但怀疑,不确定外星人是否拼写了厄运或希望,或介于两者之间的东西,或者他们是否会到达。

But even the most unconvinced among us could not deny the nervous energy that settled over the globe as the stars aligned in perfect accordance to the century-old mathematical message. We had been monitoring the solar system, satellites and telescopes and radar disks turned both towards the sun and out to the far-flung reaches of the Jovian worlds, looking for any sign of invasion. Many doubted we would see them before they are ready to make themselves known; with the technology to travel between the stars— so far beyond anything we as humans could achieve— surely they could hide themselves from us if they desired.

但是,即使是我们当中最不相信的人也无法否认,当恒星完全按照一个世纪以来的数学信息排列时,在全球范围内形成的紧张能量。我们一直在监视太阳系,卫星、望远镜和雷达盘转向太阳,并向外延伸到遥远的木星世界,寻找入侵的迹象。许多人怀疑,在他们准备好公开自己之前,我们会看到他们;有了在恒星之间旅行的技术——这远远超出了我们人类所能实现的任何目标——如果他们愿意,他们当然可以向我们隐藏自己。

The first shadow appeared over South America, cloaked in the clouds, indistinct but unmistakably unfamiliar. The others followed, shifting in and out of sight, hovering over epicenters. The panic began, the prayers and the preparation of weapons. Then their message played, hijacking every television and radio and SmartCar and phone, repeating in every language that had been broadcast into space throughout the decades. Of course, they’d had over a century to study us, to decode our signals, to devise a method of communication.

第一个阴影出现在南美洲,笼罩在云层中,模糊但明显陌生。其他人紧随其后,在视线中来回移动,徘徊在震中。恐慌开始了,祈祷和准备武器。然后,他们的信息被播放,劫持了每一台电视、收音机、智能汽车和手机,并用几十年来广播到太空的每一种语言重复着。当然,他们花了一个多世纪的时间研究我们,解码我们的信号,设计一种通信方法。

“Hello,” they said, the greeting echoing from every device in every human dialect. “We come in peace.”

“你好,”他们说,问候语回荡在每一种人类方言的每一台设备上。“我们并无恶意,前来追求和平。”

Looking for Life

寻求生命

Life beyond Earth has fascinated the imaginations of artists, writers, filmmakers, and creatives of all sorts for over a century. We imagine unknowable cosmic beings that dwell beyond our ability to comprehend, sentient races with whom we can communicate, collaborate, or wage war, and strange, unfamiliar plants and animals undergoing their own evolution. In particular, invasions or visitations of Earth (Signs, Independence Day, The Arrival) and interaction of humans and alien culture together in space (Star Trek, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy) seem to capture our interest, imagining how we might fight back against or befriend extraterrestrial lifeforms. In both cases, the focus is not solely on alien life, but on sentient life, with whom we can understand, and be understood by. Far more than alien microbes in a sea beneath Europa’s icy shell, we desire to find intelligent life among the stars.

一个多世纪以来,地球之外的生活一直吸引着艺术家、作家、电影制作人和各种创意人士的想象力。我们想象不可知的宇宙生物居住在我们无法理解的地方,我们可以与之交流、合作或发动战争的有情种族,以及正在经历自身进化的奇怪、陌生的植物和动物。特别是,对地球的入侵或访问(标志、独立日、到来)以及人类和外星人文化在太空中的相互作用(星际迷航、星球大战、银河守护者)似乎吸引了我们的兴趣,想象我们如何反击或与地外生命体交朋友。在这两种情况下,重点不仅仅是外星生命,而是有知觉的生命,与他们一起我们可以理解,也可以被他们理解。我们对在恒星中寻找智慧生命的渴望远远超过木卫二冰层下海洋中的外星微生物。

Creatives aren’t the only ones with this vision, either. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is a coalition of over one hundred scientists on the hunt for sentient alien life, backed by NASA and numerous research institutions. SETI uses huge telescope arrays, radio observatories, and experimental new technologies not only to hunt for signs of life, but to advance our understanding of physics and the universe. There is currently no telescope large enough to look directly at potentially-habitable planets orbiting distant stars (and most likely never will be), so SETI studies radio waves and monitors lasers emitted by pulsars, hoping to find indirect signs of something artificial radiating from distant solar systems.

也不是只有创意人才有这样的愿景。SETI(搜索外星智能)研究所是一个由100多名科学家组成的联盟,致力于寻找有感知力的外星生命,得到了美国宇航局和众多研究机构的支持。SETI使用巨大的望远镜阵列、无线电天文台和实验性新技术,不仅可以寻找生命迹象,还可以促进我们对物理学和宇宙的理解。目前没有足够大的望远镜可以直接观察围绕遥远恒星运行的潜在宜居行星(而且很可能永远不会),因此SETI研究无线电波并监测脉冲星发射的激光,希望找到来自遥远太阳系的人工辐射物的间接迹象。

But what makes NASA scientists and countless researchers from around the world so certain there’s something to find? The answer is a mix of math and theorizing that has been many decades in the making— the Drake equation. This famous formula, conceived in 1961, attempts to predict the amount of “transmitting societies” in the Milky Way galaxy, meaning societies not only capable of interstellar communication (such as with radio or light), but who are also choosing to create such signals. Few variables in the Drake Equation have definitive answers (such as the rate of formation of stars suitable for life), as most are based on educated speculation (fraction of planets that develop life, and fraction of those planets that develop intelligent life, for example.) However, considering the immense number of stars in our galaxy, even conservative estimates put the number at twenty intelligent civilizations, while optimistic interpretations say it could be over fifty million. The true answer is probably somewhere in between, but even if life is much rarer than modern scientists believe (that is, life itself is common on a galactic scale, and therefore intelligent life may also be more common than formerly believed), it is hard not to think that somewhere else in our Galaxy is— or was— a society that transmits signs of their existence into space.

但是,是什么让美国宇航局的科学家和来自世界各地的无数研究人员如此确信有什么可以找到呢?答案是几十年来一直在形成的数学和理论的结合——德雷克方程。这个著名的公式构思于1961年,它试图预测银河系中“发射社会”的数量,这意味着社会不仅能够进行星际通信(例如通过无线电或光),而且还选择创造这样的信号。德雷克方程中很少有变量有明确的答案(例如适合生命的恒星的形成速率),因为大多数都是基于有根据的推测(例如,发展生命的行星的比例,以及发展智慧生命的行星比例)。然而,考虑到我们银河系中恒星数量巨大,即使是保守的估计也将这一数字定为20个智能文明,而乐观的解释则表示可能超过5000万。真正的答案可能介于两者之间,但即使生命比现代科学家所认为的要罕见得多(也就是说,生命本身在银河系范围内很常见,因此智慧生命也可能比以前所认为的更常见),也很难不认为我们银河系的其他地方是——或曾经是——一个将其存在的迹象传递到太空的社会。

Why haven’t we found it yet?

为什么我们现在仍然没有找到?

If even pessimistic estimates say there are multiple detectable civilizations in the Milky Way, the natural question is, why haven’t we detected them? The easiest and most mathematical answer is that space is big. The Milky Way is 50,000 light years across, meaning that even if there is or was transmitting species sharing the galaxy, it may take thousands or tens of thousands of years for any sign of them to reach Earth (which has only been broadcasting for fifty some-odd years.) Of course, transmissions from the early days of television and radio have already reached several thousand nearby stars, and while they would require massive antennae to detect, alien civilizations could hypothetically already be aware of our existence. So, while distance is certainly a concern, the size of the Milky Way alone does not necessarily preclude us from finding intelligent life in our local star cluster.

如果甚至悲观的估计都说银河系中有多种可检测的文明,那么自然的问题是,为什么我们没有检测到它们?最简单和最数学的答案是空间很大。银河系的直径为50000光年,这意味着即使有或曾经有共享银河系的发射物种,它们的任何迹象都可能需要数千年或数万年才能到达地球(地球只广播了五十多年)。当然,早期电视和广播的传播已经到达附近数千颗恒星,虽然它们需要巨大的天线来探测,但外星文明可能已经意识到我们的存在。因此,虽然距离肯定是一个问题,但仅银河系的大小并不一定阻止我们在本地星团中发现智能生命。

On a broader scale, the conflict between a lack of evidence for extraterrestrial life and the high estimates for its existence is called the Fermi Paradox. There are innumerable potential responses beyond the size of the galaxy to physicist Enrico Fermi’s famous question— “where is everybody?” Many of them are highly theoretical in nature, and range from the idea that sentient civilizations are fated to last for only brief periods of time, to the thought that they are all hiding from us, either for self-preservation, or because humanity has not been deemed “worthy” of contact. Other theories— particularly the sort that interest SETI— are that we have not determined the proper way to detect or decipher alien transmissions. While it is essentially impossible to “prove” that Earth is being blacklisted by an interstellar federation, it is entirely plausible that nearby societies broadcast with a technology currently foreign to us, and we have simply not devised the best way to listen in. Similarly, signals that we have already detected from space may be too alien in their meaning and function to be deciphered as artificial. Scientists at SETI hope to better understand the origin of these interstellar signals, and to continue devising new ways to probe the skys for transmission methods that may be intelligent in origin.

在更广泛的范围内,缺乏地外生命的证据和对其存在的高估计之间的冲突被称为费米悖论。对于物理学家恩里科·费米的著名问题——“每个人都在哪里?”有无数超越星系大小的潜在反应它们中的许多本质上都是高度理论化的,从有意识的文明注定只会持续很短的一段时间的观点,到它们都在向我们隐藏的思想,要么是为了自我保护,要么是因为人类被认为“不值得”接触。其他理论——特别是SETI感兴趣的那种理论——是我们尚未确定检测或破译外星传播的正确方法。虽然基本上不可能“证明”地球正被一个星际联盟列入黑名单,但完全有可能的是,附近的社会使用目前我们不熟悉的技术进行广播,而我们只是没有设计出最佳的收听方式。同样,我们已经从太空探测到的信号在意义和功能上可能过于陌生,无法被解读为人工信号。SETI的科学家们希望更好地了解这些星际信号的起源,并继续设计新的方法来探测天空,寻找可能具有智能起源的传输方法。

Meeting the Neighbors

拜访一下我们的邻居

First Contact with alien life is a major focus in many speculative stories, depicted in varying levels of difficulty and strangeness, from humanoids that learn our language easily, to entities that we are barely able to understand with forms of communication that cannot be deciphered. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle— having undergone their own few billion years of evolution on a world far different than ours, it’s unlikely that aliens will resemble anything like humans. But they will probably have some similar senses to ours, as all life needs a way to interpret and interact with its environment, especially a species capable of spacefaring or transmitting. So while we may not physically recognize our neighbors, all hope is not lost for establishing some form of communication between us.

与外星生命的首次接触是许多推测故事的主要焦点,这些故事以不同程度的困难和陌生来描述,从易于学习我们语言的类人到我们几乎无法理解的实体,再到无法解读的通信形式。真相很可能在中间的某个地方——在一个与我们截然不同的世界上经历了几十亿年的进化,外星人不太可能像人类一样。但它们可能会有一些与我们类似的感觉,因为所有生命都需要一种方式来解释和与环境互动,尤其是能够进行太空飞行或传播的物种。因此,虽然我们可能无法认出我们的邻居,但在我们之间建立某种形式的沟通并没有失去所有希望。

In 1977, NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft to explore interstellar space, but each of them carried something else, as well— the “Golden Records”, gold-plated phonograph disks containing sounds and images intended to inform extraterrestrials about the human race. In 2010, author and artist Trevor Paglen compiled one hundred photos from around the world and devised a nearly immortal “time capsule” to keep them in before they were taken to orbit aboard the EchoStarXVI, calling his project “The Last Pictures” and intending for them to be discoverable by future visitors after the end of the human race. But while these sentiments are admirable (and perhaps even effective someday— who knows?) they fail to consider that aliens may not have the same sensory organs as we do, namely, eyes or ears. While it certainly makes logical sense that a space-faring species would have some sort of light-sensing organ resembling eyes, it is by no means a guarantee (perhaps they make up for it with a sensory organ that we cannot even conceive of); even here on Earth, there are species that navigate and live quite effectively without the use of eyes. Perhaps these aliens communicate with a highly specialized sense of smell, and have no concept of “sound” or “spoken language”. What do we do then? The most generic way to converse with an alien would likely be through the use of touch, as they would have to have some sort of tactile, interactive organ in order to have built a civilization and crossed the stars. But adding braille to our spacecraft will not make them immediately intelligible to extraterrestrials— even an alien with eyes would likely be confused by the Golden Record’s drawing of a male and female human, and touching a relief of a human body won’t be much clearer. There is really no way to ensure our probe emissaries are able to properly convey our messages to anyone who might find them— conservation will have to be undertaken by very patient and very willing members of both species.

1977年,美国宇航局发射了两艘旅行者号宇宙飞船探索星际空间,但每艘飞船都携带了其他东西——黄金唱片,一种镀金的留声机磁盘,其中包含声音和图像,旨在向外星人介绍人类。2010年,作家兼艺术家特雷弗·帕格伦收集了来自世界各地的100张照片,并设计了一个近乎不朽的“时间胶囊”,将其保存在EchoStarXVI号轨道上,称其项目为“最后的照片”,并打算在人类结束后让未来的游客发现这些照片。但是,尽管这些情绪令人钦佩(也许有一天甚至会有效——谁知道呢?)他们没有考虑到外星人可能没有和我们一样的感觉器官,即眼睛或耳朵。虽然太空行走的物种会有某种类似眼睛的感光器官,这当然是合乎逻辑的,但这绝不是一种保证(也许它们用我们甚至无法想象的感觉器官来弥补);即使在地球上,也有不用眼睛就能有效导航和生活的物种。也许这些外星人通过高度专业化的嗅觉进行交流,没有“声音”或“口语”的概念。那我们该怎么办?与外星人交谈最常见的方式可能是通过触摸,因为他们必须拥有某种触觉、互动器官,才能建立文明并跨越星辰。但是,在我们的太空船上增加盲文并不能让外星人立即理解——即使是有眼睛的外星人也可能会被“黄金唱片”中描绘的男性和女性混淆,触摸人体浮雕也不会清晰得多。真的没有办法确保我们的探测使者能够将我们的信息正确地传达给任何可能找到它们的人——保护工作将必须由两个物种中非常有耐心和非常愿意的成员承担。

This issue, however, is unlikely to ever arise (as timely interstellar travel is far beyond our current level of technology) and is not the primary focus of organizations such as SETI; there is a significant difference between mutual contact with alien species and simply discovering signs of their existence. While an alien spacecraft coming across the Voyager probe and making their way, physically, to Earth is an exciting prospect, it is much more likely that we will detect transmissions from an alien world thousands of light years away. The question that follows then is: how do we understand it? Should we happen to overhear any alien radios, it would be far beyond our understanding. Humans alone have over 7,000 languages, some of which remain untranslated today. Zipf’s Law, a mathematical law about the frequency of certain words in a sample, may be able to identify that a language exists in a transmission— but not what that language is saying. A more intentional message may be a little easier to decode; scientists have theorized that an intelligent race may use mathematics to convey messages, in which case, we may stand a chance of identifying patterns in the transmissions. And then we have to reply— it will take our message between decades to thousands of years to arrive back at the source, making consistent back and forth communication anywhere from painfully slow to impossible. There’s no guarantee that the civilization that sent the transmission will even still exist to receive our response. Because of this, we will likely never “talk” to aliens directly, but rather discover signs of their existence, and send some of our own out into the void for others to someday find.

然而,这个问题不太可能出现(因为及时的星际旅行远远超出了我们目前的技术水平),并且不是SETI等组织的主要关注点;与外来物种的相互接触和仅仅发现它们存在的迹象之间有着显著的区别。虽然外星航天器越过旅行者号探测器并以物理方式到达地球是一个令人兴奋的前景,但我们更有可能检测到数千光年之外的外星世界的传输。接下来的问题是:我们如何理解它?如果我们碰巧无意中听到任何外星人的无线电,那将远远超出我们的理解范围。仅人类就有7000多种语言,其中一些至今尚未翻译。齐夫定律是一个关于样本中某些单词频率的数学定律,它可能能够识别一种语言存在于传输中,但不能识别该语言在说什么。更有意的信息可能更容易解码;科学家们从理论上推测,一个聪明的种族可能会使用数学来传递信息,在这种情况下,我们可能有机会识别传输中的模式。然后我们必须回复——我们的信息需要几十年到数千年才能回到源头,使前后一致的沟通从痛苦的缓慢到不可能。无法保证发送信息的文明仍然存在以接收我们的回应。正因为如此,我们可能永远不会直接与外星人“交谈”,而是发现他们存在的迹象,并将我们自己的一些人送到太空中,让其他人在某一天找到。

Could we handle First Contact?

我们能把握住首次接触吗?

Briefly setting aside how unlikely it is— unlikely things happen every day— how would our world change with First Contact? The only thing we can know for certain is that nothing would ever be the same. Some people claim that the discovery of aliens would dismantle many organized religions, while other religious people disagree, saying that aliens do not violate their faiths, and we should greet extraterrestrials as our equals and friends. If aliens came to Earth looking for resources (or even just came in peace), some people would no doubt react with literal xenophobia, attempting to drive away the strangers. Others would try to invite them to join us on our planet, no matter how intimidating they appeared. Would the arrival of extraterrestrials better unite us as a single human race, setting aside our differences and conflicts, or would it only serve to divide us further? As a species, we have proven ourselves capable of both incredible cooperation and devastating destruction, and it’s hard to know how we would rise to the occasion of contact with a race so different from us.

简单地撇开不太可能发生的事情不谈——不太可能的事情每天都在发生——第一次接触后,我们的世界会发生什么变化?我们唯一可以肯定的是,没有什么会是一样的。一些人声称发现外星人会摧毁许多有组织的宗教,而其他宗教人士则不同意,他们说外星人不会侵犯他们的信仰,我们应该像对待我们的平等和朋友一样对待外星人。如果外星人来到地球寻找资源(甚至只是和平地来到地球),毫无疑问,一些人的反应会带有明显的仇外心理,试图赶走陌生人。其他人会试图邀请他们加入我们的星球,无论他们看起来多么吓人。外星人的到来会更好地将我们作为一个单一的人类团结起来,撇开我们的分歧和冲突,还是只会进一步分裂我们?作为一个物种,我们已经证明了自己有能力进行难以置信的合作和毁灭性的破坏,很难知道我们将如何与一个如此不同于我们的种族接触。

Finally, it’s worth considering that any alien species capable of visiting Earth directly would be far more technologically advanced than us, able to travel between stars at faster than the speed of light. So maybe we won’t have a choice in First Contact at all— if extraterrestrials capable of interstellar flight want to invade Earth, adopt humans as their wayward children, or make crop circles and skylights with motivations beyond our understanding, humanity will not be able to stop them. But, at the same time, I don’t believe we should fear colonization by a violent alien race; just as humans explore the stars out of curiosity for the universe beyond our own planet, other species will likely be just that— intrepid explorers. Perhaps in human existence we will meet fellow curious astronauts, or pick up the signals they’ve been transmitting out into the endless vacuum of space. Maybe we never will, and only after our society has vanished will our radio remains be stumbled upon by another species. It’s impossible to predict where, when, or how we will make contact, but the math says that somewhere in the Milky Way there is another intelligent civilization; all we have to do is find them. 

最后,值得考虑的是,任何能够直接造访地球的外星物种在技术上都远比我们先进,能够以高于光速的速度在恒星之间旅行。因此,也许我们在第一次接触时根本没有选择——如果能够进行星际飞行的外星人想要入侵地球,收养人类作为他们任性的孩子,或者制造出我们无法理解的麦田怪圈和天窗,人类将无法阻止他们。但是,同时,我认为我们不应该害怕被一个暴力的外星种族殖民化;正如人类出于对地球之外宇宙的好奇而探索恒星一样,其他物种也可能正是如此——勇敢的探险家。也许在人类生活中,我们会遇到好奇的宇航员同伴,或者拾取他们一直在向无尽的太空真空中传输的信号。也许我们永远不会,只有在我们的社会消失之后,我们的无线电残骸才会被另一个物种偶然发现。我们不可能预测我们在哪里、何时或如何联系,但数学表明,银河系的某个地方有另一个智慧文明;我们所要做的就是找到他们。

图片出处

STARSET_Mirror

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