Most of the time when we see aliens in fiction they’re either an invading, technologically superior force or part of an interstellar organisation. In Star Trek all aliens look like humans. In Aliens the aliens are quite animalistic. In Star Wars aliens are all kinds of things, but notably they are all pretty similar in terms of intelligence, around 50-200 IQ probably, and they all have feet and arms, two eyes and in many other respect share the same key feature with the human body, such as mouth, stomach, hearing and so on. In Avatar the aliens are just humans, except they’re blue and a bit taller than most humans. But that’s fiction. What about reality?
The first time we meet aliens might be single-cell life on a moon in our solar system. Life on Earth remained unevolved as single-cell organisms for more than 2 billion years, making it likely that most places with life are still at that stage of evolution. However, if life is rare, there might not be any other than Earth life in our solar system. The nearest solar system is 4 light years away, meaning it takes 4 years to go there at the speed of light, which is physically impossible according to Einstein. And since life is so small, we can’t see it without sending instruments there and it would have to be very intelligent equipment to search space on its own. It’s not impossible, just impractical and therefore not likely to happen for hundreds of years.
The first time we meet intelligent life is likely to be an intentional signal from aliens received by a human-built scouting beacon somewhere in space. Since intelligent life will be far apart in the galaxy, life forms won’t travel very much, but waves can be sent for communication. They can’t see that there is life on Earth because it’s too small, but they can send out a probing signal towards our solar system. Outside the solar system, away from the Sun’s shielding magnetosphere, the signal can be more easily picked up.
The first time we see the aliens with our own eyes will be after a period of distant communication and will take place near or on some outpost of human space colonization or the corresponding alien space colonization outpost. As physical expansion is a lot slower than communication waves, both us and the aliens might have had time to colonize quite a few planets, moons and solar systems. Also, we ought to assume they might not be technologically superior, but surely technologically different. They will have made very different advances in certain fields of research compared to us, by fluke, culture or because of their physical demands and requirements. You can expect them to be very different from the arms, legs, eyes, ears, penis, lungs, skin et cetera that we have. Lastly, expect them to be exponentially more intelligent than us, with an IQ of maybe 100,000. Then again, the artificial humans of the future that will meet them might be even smarter.
In conclusion, it’s not gonna be Rapa Nui and the Dutchmen, it’s certainly not gonna be the Incas and the Spanish. It’ll be more like two children watching each other at a distance in a dark forest, both having wandered off into the unknown without really knowing what they’re doing, where they’re going or why they even exist.
Here’s some distances to illustrate why interstellar meetings will occur, yet intergalactic meeting (or at least “inter-local group” meetings) are only possible through worm holes, which might not really exist. There are at least 100,000,000,000 stars our galaxy, making it likely there’s life somewhere else in the galaxy, although, it might be quite far away. If they’re at the other end of our home galaxy, we might meet them in 100,000 years if we build a space ship and leave tomorrow.
Click the small image.