What to do if you believe you have discovered an Optical ETI Beacon
One aspect of SETI over the past 37 years is that it has been mainly the purview of professional scientists. Now, with the growth of organizations like The SETILeague and the promotion of Optical SETI by the COSETI Observatory, there is a danger that "all hell could break loose", if scientific discipline is not applied to Amateur Electromagnetic SETI. So this message is mainly addressed to those Microwave and Optical SETI amateurs who may not be aware that over the years, the professional SETI community has formulated an approach to deal with the issue of what happens when an individual or individuals detect a "suspicious" signal.
Those of you who have seen last year's wonderful film Contact, will recall that Jodie Foster (a.k.a. Dr. Ellie Arroway), contacted a colleague at Parks Observatory in Australia to confirm the presence of the mysterious signal detected by the VLA in Soccoro, New Mexico, from the vicinity of Vega. Only after obtaining confirmation did she announce the finding to the world after contacting the IAU. The SETI community has formulated a set of procedures that should be followed when a signal is believed to have beep detected (Detection Protocol) and after a signal is announced to the world (Post-Detection Protocol). The text of the proposed protocols were included, by way of information, in an appendix to the OSETI I and OSETI II conference proceedings and may be read by clicking here.
Though these protocols have yet to be presented to and ratified by individual nations and the United Nations, it is to everyone's benefit that adherence to these guidelines is maintained in order to prevent a chaotic situation developing. Premature announcements of a "discovery" to the media or publicly over the Internet are likely to cause the media to ignore future announcements. Rest assured, it will NOT be possible to suppress news of a confirmed discovery, and the discoverer or discoverers will have the honor of making the public announcement.
While the SETI Protocols were written with Microwave SETI in mind, they are just as applicable to Optical SETI, though there is one caveat. At this time of first writing in late 1998, there are few Optical SETI observatories around the world that could be suddenly contacted for confirmation of a signal. In time, this issue will become moot as more and more observatories come online with a variety of photon detection equipment. However, for the moment, the confirmation of an optical signal will likely take significantly more time than indicated in the film Contact - perhaps as much as several days. Considering that such such signals would have likely been present for a considerable period of time, perhaps years, decades and even centuries, a few extra days is not a long time to wait. Frankly, if you don't have the patience to wait you should not be doing SETI research. It is an activity demanding considerable patience.