I don’t want to sound alarmist but according to some, I might just have helped spark an alien invasion. For yesterday I was part of the first sustained attempt to message the stars via a giant radio dish in California.
It is a new attempt to signal any other intelligent life forms in the galaxy to let them know we are here. But some astronomers have warned that it is dangerous to do this because ET might turn out not be friendly.
The historic radio dish, at Jamesburg Earth Station in California’s Carmel Valley, was previously used to receive signals from the Moon during the Apollo landings.
Now it has been given a new lease of life by a team seeking to communicate with any alien races that might exist in a nearby star system. The project is known as METI (messaging extra terrestrial intelligence), in a nod to the well known SETI programme that seeks to discover transmissions from aliens.
The first target for the dish to beam at is a red dwarf star, 17.6 light-years away in the constellation of Boötes, called Gliese 526. It is thought to be an ideal candidate to have habitable planets.
Two types of message are being transmitted. One is a hailing message developed by astrophysicist Dr Michael W. Busch which includes encoded information about the Earth and the Solar system. The other is short, tweet-like messages composed by ordinary Earthlings.
I was invited to join stars including movie star Dan Aykroyd and pop star Alicia Keys to become an “alpha beamer” and compose one of the first messages that would be sent on Day One of transmission yesterday.
I confess I could not think of anything terribly profound for my first potential contact with ET. So along with a mugshot, I messaged them to say: “Hello, sentient life forms. By the time you receive this, I shall be old and far too tough and stringy to eat. So if you have any plans to invade, I wouldn’t bother.”
It was transmitted, together with a mugshot of yours truly, by a company called Lone Signal which is now inviting anyone to send their own interstellar “tweets” via the radio dish.
Chief Science Officer is Dr Jacob Haqq-Misra who has written a scientific paper on The Benefits and Harms of Transmitting into Space. He said: “I have been working with the team at Lone Signal and Blue Marble Space Institute Of Science on Earth’s most cohesive attempt at messaging extra terrestrial intelligence.
“Our online platform (www.lonesignal.com) will allow anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to compose and beam their own messages to stars known or suspected to harbour habitable planets.”
Dr Haqq-Misra believes the benefits of contacting ET outweigh any dangers. But the late former Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Ryle famously warned it was dangerous to advertise our existence to others in the Galaxy as they might be hostile.
The most famous previous attempt to alert aliens to our presence was the Arecibo message beamed in the direction of the globular star cluster M13, 25,000 light-years, in 1974 by the Arecibo radio telescope. Other attempts have been made too, including a publicity stunt for Doritos snacks!
My message is already many billions of kilometres on its way to Gliese 526. But it will take more than 17 years to get there. And even if aliens received and understood it straight away, it would take another 17.6 years for them to send back a reply. So we should be safe for now.
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