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Don't talk to aliens? Too late _ we've already tried

WASHINGTON — Cosmologist Stephen Hawking says it is too risky to try to talk to space aliens.

Oops. Too late.

NASA and others already have beamed several messages into deep space, trying to phone extraterrestrials.

The U.S. space agency, which two years ago broadcast the Beatles song "Across the Universe" into the cosmos, on Wednesday discussed its latest search strategy for life beyond Earth.

"The search for life is really central to what we should be doing next in the exploration of the solar system," said Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres.

The academy panel is looking at 28 possible missions, from Mars to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. And NASA is focused mostly on looking for simple life like bacteria in Earth's solar system rather than fretting about potential alien overlords coming here.

Just days ago, Hawking said on his new TV show that a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth would be like Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas, "which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

The famous British physicist speculated that while most extraterrestrial life will be similar to microbes, advanced life forms would likely be "nomads, looking to conquer and colonize."

The comment reinvigorated a three-year debate roiling behind the scenes in the small community of astronomers who look for extraterrestrial life, said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, which looks for aliens. Should astronomers ban purposeful messages into the universe for fear of attracting dangerous aliens?

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