How to Make First Contact

First Contact Day has been and gone without any bloodshed. We missed it, here at SciFi Ideas, and we hope that doesn’t cause an international incident. For future reference, First Contact Day is celebrated on April 5th annually. Set a reminder on your phone (or like the Facebook page), ready your UN and Groznblasx flags, and brush up on your Groznblasx throat-warbling in preparation for the traditional butchering of the Ch’bon Chi. (And please remember thatĀ Groznblasx flags should be flown at half-mast in remembrance of Ambassador Frlygrl’s mother-in-law.)

OK, so I’m clearly nonsense. We haven’t made first contact with the giant tetra-monsters of Groznblor… yet. First Contact Day instead marks the fictional day in Star Trek lore when the fictional Vulcans first shook fictional hands with a fictional post-apocalyptic physicist.


As fictional first dates go, this one was pretty successful. It was made easier by the fact that both species had vocal chords, faces, ears, andĀ hands (even if they didn’t both have a tradition of shaking them). They both evolved from apes, and that gave them something in common.

Real-life first contact situations are likely to be must more difficult. The likelihood that any aliens we meet will have a vastly different biology and brain chemistry to our own could cause not only problems, but also dangers. Say the wrong thing, make the wrong move, or sneeze, and you could start an interstellar war.

So, just how do you communicate your peaceful intentions to an alien? If you find yourself representing the entire human species in just such an awkward situation, this handy guide could save your neck:


If you’re looking for a science fiction story that demonstrates just how difficult a meeting with a previously unknown alien species could be, I recommend reading Learning Curve by Dan Palacios, in which an ill-prepared astronaut makes first contact with a race of monopodal Ionian squids – the bizarrely named Pok Krrzzz. The full story is available for download here.

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  • Steven Lyle Jordan

    You’ve got to be careful with first contacts: You never know when you’ll meet an alien who communicates with farts and pratfalls. “The Rorgots are almost here… hurry up and finish your chili, lieutenant.”

    • What if an alien has 100 tentacles and communicates with sign-language? We’d need an octopus colage just to say hello!

    • Brandy Ervin

      Would they communicate it through sound, vibration, or smell?

      • Steven Lyle Jordan

        Maybe their words will be defined by degrees of warmth. Or maybe they won’t be “words,” but approximations of feelings. Or maybe, like the Star Trek Next Generation episode “Darmok,” their words will communicate metaphors as references to significant moments in their history. Either way, without the proper reference points, it may be impossible to know what they’re talking about.

  • pmcoltrane

    Aliens that are thousands of years more advanced, with interstellar spacecraft, probably would have already scanned Earth, located our cities, assessed our technology, decrypted our communications, and watched our public access math education TV shows. If they contact me, instead of a VIP world leader, it means they’re pranksters who know no one will ever believe me.

  • Vanessa Ravencroft

    Communication with Olfactory means (farts) is difficult as you could not communicate an idea to a larger audience. It could not be recorded(until a very advanced technology is able to produce molecules of a particular kind and composition every time) Communication is a pre requisite to a technical tool building society.
    No matter how alien the aliens might be , they need prerequisites to advance to a tool building tech society that eventually builds some sort of space crossing device. 1) They need to live in a NiOx atmosphere in which a Fire burns – no fire no utuilization of fire and metals (Stone is simply not a good substitute for metals used on a space ship (Ceramics are a different story but in order to create such high restiant ceramics you need metal tools) This is why no matter how smart dolphins and octopus are, they live in an environment where fire and thus the first step to civilization is possible) 2) Vision – Vision stereoscopic at least – to focus on reasonable small items, No matter how good you hear, a race of blind could not build a machine of more than three -four parts. 3)Manipulators – some form of hand or manipulaor (tentacle with an opposing element) and enough sensitivity to manipulate small objects.No sentient life might evolve out of anything (The Aliens in my Universe come from all sorts of environments but not all of them are able to create a civilization (see )
    4) Communication that can be responded to , that is able to address more than one other individual and can be recorded (oral history, written, radio waves etc)
    Now a Sign language (A species of mine utilizes mouth tentacles to as part of their language,so most is “lost in translation”) Visual based communication can take the place for acoustics, Olfactory smell based communications can not (in a language capable of communicating mathematics.)
    So whoever the Aliens may be, as long as they build space ships they have technology and must fit within these criteria (if they are from our reality and governed by the same physical rules) Carbon is Carbon on Earth as it is on the most distant planet. Oxydation and chemcial processes are universal)
    But Human language is not acoustic alone, there are a million things I can communicate with facial expressions and body language.)
    The Attikan of my Universe were terribly offended by a smiling human. The exposing of teeth to them is a sign of impeding violence)
    Anyway the language of any sentient technological advanced species must be able to convey mathematics and abstracts,

  • Robert Young

    I have no concern at all. Language came about to enable humans to work together to survive. It will be the same for aliens too. Water is water, etc. Once the two species start that process our IT systems will be talking to each other in days.

    • Jack Hemsley 1

      But the aliens could speak a very different language that is so different from all Earth languages that we might not even be able to hear it. Or maybe they see the words they make instead of hearing. Who knows…

  • What if we went to the aliens’ planet and we’re the advanced ones?