The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from NASA is scheduled to launch later this year, and scientists are excited. Some scientists are ecstatic at the possibility of ‘traveling across time’ to learn about the origin story of our universe, while others hope it will help us bridge the gap between classical and quantum physics.
However, at least one researcher believes the JWST could be a sign of bad things to come. World-renowned physicist Michio Kaku, one of the scientists behind string theory, told the Guardian over the weekend that he doesn’t believe humans should contact any aliens they find. The relevant snippet is as follows:
Soon we’ll have the Webb telescope up in orbit and we’ll have thousands of planets to look at, and that’s why I think the chances are quite high that we may make contact with an alien civilization. There are some colleagues of mine that believe we should reach out to them. I think that’s a terrible idea. We all know what happened to Montezuma when he met Cortés in Mexico so many hundreds of years ago.
Kaku’s use of Montezuma and Cortes in the context of first contact is intriguing. According to legend, As legend has it, Montezuma II accidentally ceded the entire Aztec empire to Cortes, a Spanish Conquistador, over a language misunderstanding.
According to historians, Montezuma II told Cortes he’d been keeping the Aztec throne warm for him, but he meant it in a bragging sarcastic way. Cortes apparently didn’t get the tone, and the rest is history.
Kaku appears to be warning that if we find and contact aliens, Earthlings could be the Aztecs and aliens would be the Spaniards. When we discover them, we might send a message like “we come in peace,” which the aliens might interpret as “come rule us.” It could happen.
When it comes to discussing what might happen if/when we discover alien life, we could go on and on. Instead, let’s take a look at some key facts about the JWST to see how they relate to what we might find ET-wise, when it gets where it’s going:
- It’s 100X more powerful than Hubble and uses infrared scanning technology to see things further away and with greater detail
- It will scan thousands of potentially habitable worlds for signs of life, something Hubble wasn’t designed to do
- If everything goes according to plan: it’ll reach its destination, calibrate its sensors, and be fully-operational by May 2022
The telescope will be sent to the second Lagrange point by NASA (L2). This is a unique location where the telescope can maintain its alignment with the Earth while orbiting the sun 1.5 million kilometers away. The Hubble, on the other hand, just hung out right above our planet a mere 325 kilometers away.
The JWST will allow us to see and study the cosmos in new and exciting ways thanks to its incredible vantage point. The JWST will allow scientists to study the origins of the universe and, hopefully, find planets capable of supporting life in our galaxy. That means we could find aliens with it as early as next year, theoretically.
What would that mean? We have no idea what kind of aliens we might encounter. Maybe they’ll look like amoebas. Or perhaps we’ll discover a young planet with flourishing flora and fauna but no intelligence. Yes, it’s possible that we’ll discover intelligent life. The only thing we can be certain of is that whatever life we do manage to find should be afraid.
Nearly every civilization that’s inhabited Earth either warred with other civilizations or was dominated by one or more that did. Even today, Earth is inhabited by 8 billion people who exist under a planet-wide policy of mutually assured destruction.
NASA is a US government agency, and the US is currently engaged in the longest war in its history. Almost everything about the state of our world suggests that violence is inevitable when humans are involved. If we meet an intelligent species, we’re likely to go to war.
And the prognosis is even worse for any unintelligent life forms we come across. More than 41,000 species on Earth are currently endangered. In order to protect any alien critters we meet from our ceaseless destruction, we’ll need to treat their worlds with far greater reverence and respect than we do our own.
After all, there’s no guarantee that there’s life out there. Even if there is, it may take decades, centuries, or millennia for us to venture far enough or develop the necessary technology to find it. But if there are any, and they aren’t powerful enough to stop us from doing what we always do, let’s hope we don’t find them until we learn to be better neighbors to everyone, including ourselves.