Sunday 6 November 2022

First Contact- an Alien Encounter

I'm not what you might call an impulse buyer, but with a title like that I dropped everything to watch it. This BBC 2 feature length production combines speculative fiction interspersed with talking head experts; however, of course, this being the BBC, they desperately tried to avoid consulting any white males. First Contact- an Alien Encounter begins with a signal from space being picked up at the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory at the same time NASA picks one up from Voyager 1 outside the solar system. The scientific community study the signal amongst themselves privately at first, trying to verify whether it is a genuine artificial signal and whether it really comes from space. There have been many false alarms in the past along those lines. It is a race against time because they know they cannot keep this information secret for very long. Indeed by the third day newsrooms around the world announce the discovery of the signal and, as always, social media goes ablaze with hopes, fears and memes. By the following day, protests break out. Concerned citizens believe the government is hiding something about the signal. As I explain in the background links below, a conspiracy of silence in astronomy is not possible. All the data is above our heads and there are simply too many telescopes. Astronomy is the one truly democratic science. Despite this, the signal has a positive knock on effect on UFOlogy, as I predicted. The suspicion turns to fear and people start panic buying supplies, like they did in the first Covid lockdown.
On the sixth day telescopes manage to pick up the source of the signal. It is an object travelling at almost two million miles per hour and is enormous, a hundred and twenty miles across; the size of a small planet. At this point there is a non-fiction interlude about 'Oumuamua. I was annoyed that of all the astronomers interviewed, they left out Avi Loeb. I wonder why. Maybe because of his radical views about the interstellar object, see: The BBC's reconstructed image of 'Oumuamua specifically make it look like a natural object, similar to the "turd picture" that you'll be familiar with from most science and news stories about the object. The truth is, we don't know what 'Oumuamua looks like. Nobody has ever seen it up close. It's an artist's impression; pure guesswork. Back to the story, there is another surge of public apoplexy as telescope data is published on the signal source, dubbed "The Artefact". There is an emergency session at the United Nations (If only Sir Eric Gairy were still alive!) and countries with a nuclear deterrent put them on red alert. This enormous object is shaped not unlike a modern space station; long thin modules attached together with structures leading off it that resemble antennae. It is tumbling through space like 'Oumuamua did without any form of propulsion or control... 'Oumuamua did not! The fictional news sequences are very well made. They are extremely vivid because they star actual news personalities like David Shukman, the BBC's real science editor. When The Artefact becomes visible to smaller telescopes, telescopes themselves become the focus of mass purchases and everybody goes out at night to try and see The Artefact for themselves. Parks and gardens are packed with crowds watching the skies all night. Recordings of John Greenewald Jr and Chris Mellon are featured briefly for a few seconds and you can hear a discussion of UAP with the voices of the Nimitz pilots, but these clips are all taken totally out of context, as we'll see. Sales of guns in the USA increase and more riots break out, but not everybody is afraid. A large number of people are more curious, delighted and full of wonder. Once The Artefact's track has been calculated, astronomers are able to work out where is came from. The Kepler space telescope turns to look at the location and finds a suitable binary star system. The Artefact either originated from, or passed through, that stellar system a hundred to two hundred thousand years ago. Everybody from the UN to TikTokers prepare a message to send to the source stars. When the James Webb space telescope is aligned with the stars it detects a Dyson swarm around the star, a bit like Tabby's Star, see: However there are no organized radio emissions from it. The civilization that produced the Dyson swarm and The Artefact no longer exists. The Artefact is not a spaceship; it's a piece of lifeless space junk. The signal was triggered by an automatic process as it detected the sun. This is the "L" factor in the Drake Equation, see background links below. Cultures, and even entire species, when compared with cosmic timescales, endure for but a moment. When we encounter the evidence of them it is far more likely that it will be evidence of their past existence than their present, like in Arthur C Clarke's heartrending short story, The Star, see: Two independent species would have to be very lucky to encounter each other while they are both enjoying that brief explosion of living activity. As one of the experts says, exopolitics is more like archaeology. If we're lucky, there might be a lot of well-preserved material from the lost aliens, like literature and scientific knowledge. A month after the signal was detected, just before The Artefact moves beyond the range of our telescopes to continue its eternal mindless journey through the cosmos, millions of people hold a candlelit vigil to celebrate the wondrous experience the earth has just enjoyed and hope that whoever built the visitor from the stars is still out there somewhere and we might meet them someday. Source:
First Contact- an Alien Encounter is a technically brilliant, well designed piece of docufiction. It is lucid, realistic and very moving. I've referred to Arthur C Clarke several times during this review and this is because it is exactly the kind of story he would write. However, its poignant premise is happily false. Finding extraterrestrial intelligence has already been achieved and it was achieved a long time ago. The task is far easier that scanning the distant reaches of space with a billion dollar telescope. You can just go outside and look up at the sky or even go and knock on somebody's door. Aliens are not somewhere out there; they're down here on the earth with us. We see their vehicles all the time flying just a few feet above our heads. Many of the beings look very similar to ourselves and you may well have met one of them. It's odd because the programme briefly refers to the UAP issue and even features prominent UFOlogists and witnesses; but this real and obvious evidence is completely omitted from the story. I don't think this is accidental and I make the same criticism of the BBC's film as I do of the SETI movement in general, see background links below. I must ask the same question that I asked over the Calvine photo, see:; why now? More and more studios, publishers and TV networks are releasing fictional accounts of extraterrestrial contact. I don't believe this is a coincidence. Writers, like all artistic people, are very good at picking up the morphic; subconscious inklings of what is actually going on, sometimes invisibly, behind the scenes or waiting ahead in the future. I hope this question will be answered soon.
See here for background:

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