What will we do if ET contacts us? The International Academy of Astronautics in Paris has a list of volunteer astronomers who are willing to help. In the U.S., an international agreement called the “Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” written by SETI, lays out the basic rules for contact. The scientists who sign the “Declaration” must agree to keep the news about contact secret until the government has been alerted. As soon as SETI detects an alien radio signal, the International Telecommunications Union will ask governments around the world to stop using that part of the radio band, so communication can be established.

Jim Wilson writes in Popular Mechanics that SETI thought the moment of contact had come during a 12-hour period in 1999, when a signal that repeated in an organized pattern was detected 1 million miles away in space. Despite the fact that SETI asked radio astronomers around the world to direct their telescopes towards it, the signal faded as the Earth rotated away from it.

SETI?s Douglas Vakoch says, “At this point, all of our discussions were internal to our team. We didn’t want to cry wolf. Then, in the midst of the process, we get a call from The New York Times.” Eventually SETI identified the mystery signal as a transmission from the sun-watching satellite SOHO.

But how did The Times hear about it, if SETI is supposed to keep possible contacts secret? Despite the Declaration, someone at SETI must have talked. Vakoch says, “These guidelines have no legal force.”

People report contact with ET-like creatures all the time, so why do they remain sight unseen in the media? Find out what’s really going on from UFO researcher Budd Hopkins on this week’s Dreamland!

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