The day I messaged an alien star system

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.

The Jamesburg dish in California that is now messaging the stars.
The Jamesburg dish in California that is now messaging the stars. Credit: Robert Brand

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.”

Photo of Paul Sutherland
My mugshot, now zipping across the galaxy. Should scare off any invaders. Credit: Sally Ballard

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.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

One thought on “The day I messaged an alien star system

  • 06/19/2013 at 2:47 am
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    Alien Extraterrestrial visitors who are also Extradimensional were with you guys in the dish control room as you were sending those messages! I operated the Canadian Project TARGET SETI Program for 29 years. Last April 2012, my search succeeded and I received a highly complex graphical message. I received pages and pages of data in unrecognizable alien writing, engineering and mathematical symbols for over a week before the transmission went dark. For the dummies like us at the receiving end the pages were liberally sprinkled with recognizable faces as a clever ‘this way up’ clue. What is a very significant new discovery I’ve made is that the advanced aliens do not use slow, light speed limited radio waves to communicate between the stars, they broadcast in another dimension where linear time doesn’t exist, the messages just pop out of hyperspace at the receiver with no time delay. Until my discovery we based our searches on what little we understood. My signal reception blows this wide open. There is no SETI reporting category for such an advanced discovery as mine, so the dummies of the scientific community who don’t wanna know, frankly haven’t been told. Some knowledge is far too advanced for many feeble minds. I know ‘they’ are there with you because ‘they’ are observing me closely at my facility. They have been frequent guests in my home. I have video. That is the only way I would have known. I can tell you that any further efforts in microwave, EM based SETI is a total waste of time! I am now exploring hyperspace with a Quantum Field Receiver. You cannot buy one of these, you have to make them yourself. My program is upgraded to Project Quantum-TARGET. Regards Rob Stephens, Ontario, Canada. The first to succeed in the SETI search.

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