By Robert Lynch
With bated breath, they waited for the telescope to compile the results.
As they looked over the data, it was undeniable. They had found intelligent life on another planet. Not just evidence of oxygen or some other chemical marker, not life just going about its business on another world; but intelligent life. Interstellar peers far, far, away!
What could we learn from them? What secrets of the universe had they unlocked? What were they like?
Over the next few months, the world went crazy. Intelligent life on another planet? It changes the way that we think about ourselves in the cosmos. The planet was so far away that no one could try and make the argument that life had been transported from Earth; like they might if life were found elsewhere in the solar system. 160,000 light-years was too far for life on Earth to have travelled.
Our culture changed indelibly. Entire TV and radio channels sprang up, dedicated to interpreting the signals from the far off alien world. Humanity watched soap operas, sports, and political intrigue completely alien to them. The way humans saw themselves and the planet changed, big problems seemed smaller as humanity saw itself more as one people rather than a collection of countries.
It couldn’t last, of course. It took maybe six months for the fascination to wear off.
The average person didn’t understand the distance. 160,000 light-years is such a large distance that the fastest spacecraft ever made would take 250 million years to get there. The distance so vast that when the signals left that alien planet, humans had not evolved yet.
When the people of the Earth realised that they would never meet these aliens, human resolve faulted. Once puffed up by the knowledge, finally the bubbled burst. Deflated we went back to our old ways.
The spaceship in orbit pitied the small blue marble. These people did not yet deserve to be part of the interstellar community. The humans had failed the test, and although in a better position than they had been, human pettiness had risen where aspiration might have blossomed.