5 Things That Would Happen If We Ever Found Intelligent Alien Life
Strict protocols would come into play
In 1997, SETI infamously had a false alarm that they found intelligent alien life, which was immediately picked up by the New York Times and blown completely out of proportion. After that incident, SETI created specific protocols for astronomers who believe that they have discovered alien life, in order to ensure that the information is properly verified and disseminated to the public through controlled channels.
First, the astronomers are supposed to verify to the best of their ability that the signals are not coming from any natural phenomenon, and then have it verified independently by someone outside of SETI. They should then inform astronomers in other nations, as well as the Secretary General of the UN, so the information can be dispersed through scientific and accredited public media outlets.
Someone would ruin the surprise on Twitter
But this is the 21st century, so the astronomers admit that none of these protocols would ultimately be followed. They would try, of course, but in the age of information, it would inevitably leak before it had been verified and released in a controlled manner. Blogs, Twitter, Reddit, and every other unofficial news authority would pick up on the story way earlier than intended. SETI director Seth Shostak said of the premature 1997 NYT leak, "There is no secrecy in SETI," and there is even less privacy now.
It would break the Internet
And once the news broke, it would spread like wildfire. We would probably all have trouble getting on social media that day, but no one would experience more technical issues than the SETI Institute. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as once the information is verified, SETI very much wants it to be widely known:
The public reaction would closely mimic the movie Contact
Would the public be open to the discovery of alien life, or would they be fearful of an alien invasion? Paul Ziolo, a professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool and a regular presenter at the 100YSS symposiums, specifically cited the film Contact, which was partially inspired by Tartar's life and career, as a realistic portrayal of the disparate public reactions to such a discovery.
We would have a reason to believe in the longevity of human civilization
While the public reactions would vary, scientists would likely be optimistic about confirmed signals from an advanced civilizations, as it would give them more hope for the future of humanity: