About 200 years from now, a human scientific expedition, lead by a international coalition of Earth nations, is sent to an alien moon around a habitable planet, light years from earth. Like it's parent planet, the moon has a stable atmosphere and is mostly habitable but with extreme temperatures that vary during it's seasons. The explorers arrived through a wormhole discovered near Pluto orbit, which is discovered to be the cause of massive, gravitational anomales in the kuiper belt in Sol. (As a note, a small colony already exists on the parent world governed by this international organization which is a next generation UN). After spending some time surveying the moon, this team discovers these alien devices.

  • At first the devices appear to be large rocky formations that don't particularly catch anyone's eye.

  • Subsequent scans reveal radiation — a lot of radiation. Across nearly the entire EM spectrum.

  • The radiation is so strong that protective suits are necessary to approach them.

The shipboard science team realizes that these "pillars" are nothing like anything humanity has seen before, and so the cavalry is called in. Through the course of my story, the cavalry discoveres many things about the pillars, but the important discoveries are:

  • The pillars are large AI-controlled emitters that are generating a nearby wormhole. (The same wormhole the initial explorers came through.)

  • The devices are powered by antimatter reactors deep within a nearby cave network.

My Question:  I have little idea what types of people would be called in to study these strange alien devices. The ship's science team doesn't know what they're dealing with, so who would be called in first? Once the discoveries start piling up, what specialists would be called in second?

  • $\begingroup$ One thing that you might what to think about is who is assigning the people who "would be tasked with studying such devices". If this is a novel event and the people were not experts (like a large government) the responce would probably be "send everybody we can, like Beth she's smart". If this is a group that specilizes in these things, and as seen may they would have system (not that I can tell you what it is)? $\endgroup$
    – P Chapman
    Nov 23, 2017 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ Xenopaleotechnologists, usually called XP techs? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 23, 2017 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ Every scientist, engineer, and specialist not directly involved with biology or botany would be selling their own grandmothers for a chance to analyze the devices (and the biologists might want a crack just in case there's a microbe or two still hanging around). However, I'm forced to vote to put your question on hold as primarily opinion based because you haven't told us what in your story they are meant to find. Without that data, the answer is "any or all of them." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 23, 2017 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ I added some more details. $\endgroup$
    – user43914
    Nov 23, 2017 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest studying other works of fiction describing the discovery and investigation of alien artefacts and looking at the specialities of the people involved. A good example is the Arrival. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2022 at 7:34

5 Answers 5


A multidisciplinary team

I hate to give the unhelpful answer but with technology so far beyond our own (I assume it’s that because we want to study it) Everyone from theoretical physicists to material scientists to anthropologies and linguists would be sent as one huge team

(they might pull the linguists out if they found no writing at all)

The other option is they might send nobody because they are afraid of what anybody would learn.

OK maybe some clarification

I am sticking to scientific specialties and assume other specialists needed to support them are assumed.

I am assuming that we are dealing with an organization who has a very deep talent pool and can pull anyone they want from other projects if nessesary.

I am only giving one narrative of people brought in there are alternate ones.

It has been stated that the rock formations are unremarkable but the amount of EM radiation reaches deadly levels so it will interfere with equipment and generally be hard to miss. And triangulation will point to the rock formations. This points to a physicist but anyone who can track a signal and survey an area could do this.

After the rock formations have been spotted. Geologists and Material Scientists would be brought in to determine if these structures are natural or artificial. Also this whole thing is putting out very large amounts of energy it seems so someone would be brought in to see where the power is coming from, I am not sure what their specialty would be they need to be able to figure out what form the energy is being transported in. You would also want a specialist to try to determine how this relates to the presence of the wormhole but I don’t think that field of expertise really even has a name yet.

Some variation of anthropologies who study aliens would also be brought in once the structure was determined to be artificial.

At some point the mechanism would be found (I don’t see an AI without some kind of interfere to it). At his point you need a whole set of engineers/researchers/anthropologies specialization in devices not made by humans (another field that does not exist yet). Then start with the commuting hardware, then the mathematics, then software, then AI.

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    $\begingroup$ They'd still need the linguists for when the "large AI controller" starts talking. Either with audible voice or with strange tonal images directly in the brain. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 23, 2017 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ :) And I neglected mathimaticans to understand the operiating principles principles used to develop the alien operating system the alien AI operate on. $\endgroup$
    – P Chapman
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ I don't really find this answer any helpful, of course there would be multiple people with different skill coming, maybe you could elaborate like James did in his answer. $\endgroup$
    – Asoub
    Nov 24, 2017 at 8:02


Unsurprisingly this is already a concept in Science Fiction.


Xenoarchaeology, branch of xenology dealing with extraterrestrial cultures, is a hypothetical form of archaeology that exists mainly in works of science fiction. The field is concerned with the study of material remains to reconstruct and interpret past life-ways of alien civilizations. Xenoarchaeology is not currently practiced by mainstream archaeologists due to the current lack of any material for the discipline to study.

The name derives from Greek xenos (ξένος) which means 'stranger, alien', and archaeology 'study of ancients'.

If the technology is still active then you're looking at the multidisciplinary team that PChapman has mentioned. Though he neglected the requirement for a security detail.

  • $\begingroup$ Redshirts, of course! You need sòmeone to tragically, yet heroically, die right away so that the lead character can come along and save the day. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Nov 23, 2017 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I was limiting my thought's to scienfitic specilists. :) Me I would want a good pastry cheif as well. :) If it is that kind of story I would want the super genius who has mastered hundreds of disciplines and is obviously the protagonist. “Mr Stark how did you learn to work these control systems.” “Last night when I read the alien operating manual” “OK … Wait when did you learn to read ...” . $\endgroup$
    – P Chapman
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PChapman, you want me to go where?! I'll have you know I'm not going without my full catering team and mobile spa! $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:30

Geologists, with a specialty in lunar geology (if such a specialty exists in your world), since it is necessary to understand what parts of the rock formation are natural, which are not, how both the natural and manufactured parts were made.

Miners, or something like them, to provide hands-on perspective on some of the geologists' concepts.

Military (or security specialists) to help identify threats and maintain situational awareness, as threats are identified.

Chemists to study samples of the formation, biologists to hunt for any traces of life, microbiologists to study any samples found, and geneticists to study those samples even further.

Doctors to look after the health of the team, and to evaluate any illness for cause (specifically looking for alien disease, pollutants, etc.)

Mechanical engineers to evaluate the stuctural soundness of the area, and to design ways to improve the soundness of structurally unstable areas. Builders to carry out the plans.

Radio/communications experts to evaluate the signals and attempt contact with the AI. Mathematicians and computer experts to assist them.

Linguists and AI psychologists (if they exist in your world) to determine if the level of the machines self-awareness and independence and to attempt meaningful conversation witth the AI.

Linguists to attempt making sense of any written or transmitted communication.

Psychologists and/or historians to glean what its all there (with suggestions from military). Astronomers to help determine where they came from.

Antimatter engineers to evaluate the power systems. Theoretical physicists or wormhole engineers (if such exist in your world) to evaluate the wormhole.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bomb disposal expert with a few dozen of expendable drones. Because their mindset of scouting any potentially dangerous area would be quite useful at start. $\endgroup$
    – Shadow1024
    Nov 24, 2017 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ There was some movie where an artist was added to the mix - to provide an outside perspective. Was it Sphere? $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2017 at 12:07

United States Air Force

The USAF science divisions will study this alien technology. The military can provide all the resources needed to fund and protect the project. The air-force scientists realise that some of the symbols on the pillars look like hieroglyphics, but struggle to interpret the meaning. They bring in a civilian Egyptologist, who believes that aliens have been involved in Earth's past, to help decipher the device and make it operational.

You send a team through the now functioning wormhole, it should consist of the archaeologist, a male covert ops commander brought out of retirement, and a female hot-shot astrophysicist pilot. After discovering some aliens, the team will be joined by a strong, bald alien who will provide any extra knowledge needed about the alien worlds.

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    $\begingroup$ For those who missed it, this is the Stargate SG-1 pilot's plot. $\endgroup$
    – Brythan
    Nov 23, 2017 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't really matter who else is sent as long as MacGyver is with them. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Nov 24, 2017 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura Ironically MacGyver left to look after his family and got replaced by John Crichton. $\endgroup$
    – Pharap
    Nov 24, 2017 at 18:31


Why send a bunch of under-evolved meatbags to understand a machine, when you can send the most advanced machine available to understand its alien counterpart?

If not, then two distinct teams

  1. the one aboard the reconnaissance vessel (you get it for free, given that they find the artifacts)
  2. a team of nuclear physicists/engineers, which arrives on a specialized ship equipped with our computers and large-AIs

A bit of reasoning below.

TL;DR sending a lot of humans in space for the just-in-case is way more expensive than sending just-the-necessary-right humans with a good encyclopedia and a powerful computer (we're in the future afterall).

Let's consider a real-life case first: the discovery and study of the Antikythera mechanism. When we look at page listing the team that analyzed and figured out the artifact and its inner workings, one thing becomes evident: the team changed/expanded over time as the understanding improved and goals evolved. These people were of course working from the comfort of planet Earth, and relied heavily on computers and other types of equipment. A lot of the experts were simply there to be asked questions, but did not necessarily need to do any "field" work. Without detracting from their expertise, we can presume that an encyclopedia from the future could have been almost as effective in providing a similar level of contribution.

Back to the case described by the OP, following the OP's timeline, there seem to be increasing understanding of the alien tech and thus changing goals. There are going

  1. The first team is already aboard the ship, if the ship was sent to study the celestial body. This is exactly as the OP outlined it. In fact all that they need to do is to identify the rocky formation, measure the radiation and raise a flag for sending someone to continue the research. I imagine we are talking about a chemist (also acting as geologist) and the ship's chief engineer, who is trained in nuclear physics. A geologist is unlikely to be aboard provided that rocks strata are not going to change quickly, and there is no need to dig/build/do anything with them during a reconnaissance mission. This team gets as far as wearing a suit and going on site to record radiation from close to the pillars, perhaps even collecting a sample.

  2. Radiation occurs spontaneously, so there must be something unusual about this particular case. Perhaps the next goal may be to understand the source/pattern of the radiation. There goes the nuclear physicists/engineers team. Nuclear physicists and engineers do have enough computer science and math training to discover, identify and study unusual patterns. I imagine that the large AI can be found by looking at some kind of patterns. This team travels on a spaceship of the future, which will be designed to perform detailed analysis. We can safely expect the ship to have the equivalent of future wikipedia stored in its mainframe, as well as future state-of-the-art AI technology to assist in the analyses. This team has all the required knowledge to figure out the presence of a wormhole, the existence of antimatter reactors and engineer a simple interface to interact with them. I am not claiming that they will understand the mechanism, or that they will be able to reverse-engineer them, but that did not seem to be the question in the first instance.

Notes: The following experts have been left on Earth:

  • Linguists. If current AI can translate between human languages today, future AI can probably identify some elements of communication between us and aliens.
  • Miners. Unless the goal is to extract the pillars, in the OP question there is no need to dig big holes.
  • Military, security details. Maybe they come for free as pilots aboard the ship. But considering that the planet/moon is inhabited, as reported by the reconnaissance mission, these people would just be useless cargo load.
  • Doctors, biologists. Beyond what's typically aboard future space vessels, there is no need to add any. All research can be done from the safety of spacesuits, or even within the walls of the spaceship, provided drones to go out an explore.
  • Mechanical engineers, architects. There was nothing mechanical in the structures identified in the reconnaissance mission. Also, the OP did not specify whether there was the need to build anything, in which case I'd rather send builders. Hence, beyond the chief engineer to look after the engine, there is no need for these expertise.
  • Radio/communications experts. to evaluate the signals and attempt contact with the AI.
  • Mathematicians, computer experts, theoretical physicists. Theoretical people are not exactly what is needed in the first step of looking at an artifact and figuring out how to interact with it. These are instead the people that may be employed later in reverse-engineering the apparatus.
  • AI psychologists, astronomers, archeologists, alienologists and historians. While they may entertain interesting conversations on the way to the site, their task is fairly useless at interfacing with a set of pillars, whose function is to open wormholes. These are the people that may be employed later in building theories on how the aliens used the apparatus and why. Honestly, for the sake of making it work: who cares?
  • Lawyers, political scientists, phylosophers. Same as above. Perhaps useful in deciding the reason for using it and when to use it, once we figure out how to.

I hope I did not forget anyone who lined up for this mission.


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