Emily LakdawallaAug 17, 2009

Send a message to the aliens

Last week I got a message via Facebook from one Jacqui Hayes, who's on the staff of an excellent Australian science magazine called COSMOS. More importantly to me, Jacqui was once one of the Student Navigators, an international group of students who The Planetary Society brought to JPL in the runup to the Mars Exploration Rover mission -- organizing that program and training the students was the original reason I was hired here. So I'm delighted that Jacqui has found her way into a job communicating science to the public!

Anyway, Jacqui wrote to inform me about a project being organized by COSMOS titled "Hello from Earth." COSMOS is collecting messages on the Hello from Earth website for the next week, and when the week's over the messages will be converted into a signal that will be broadcast from the Canberra DSN station to the nearest Earth-like planet, Gliese 581d. The messages are limited to 160 characters in length, just a bit longer than the Twitter limit, so it's much like Tweeting or text-messaging a star. Wander over to their website to send your message! Bruce and Mat have made this project the topic of this week's What's Up contest, inviting listeners to make us laugh with their messages to the aliens.

To be honest, I'm a bit surprised by this project -- there are lots of people who question whether it's safe for us to be broadcasting signals into space. After all, humans have only been a spacefaring species for about 50 years; if any of our signals get picked up by any other intelligent life form, odds are good that they'll be much more technologically advanced than we. Are we advertising ourselves as a plum ripe for the picking? I don't think it's a totally silly concern. However we're broadcasting loud signals into space to talk with all of our deep-space robotic explorers, so we're sending plenty of signals out already -- this is just one among millions.

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