It should come as no surprise to Astonishing Legends’ fans that scientists have been working on contacting aliens for generations. In 1974, the most powerful broadcast, the Arecibo Message, was sent into space. The Arecibo message contained a basic pictorial message that was aimed at the M13 globular star cluster about 21,000 light years away from us. According to SETI, “It consists, among other things, of the Arecibo telescope, our solar system, DNA, a stick figure of a human, and some of the biochemicals of earthly life. Although it's unlikely that this short inquiry will ever prompt a reply, the experiment was useful in getting us to think a bit about the difficulties of communicating across space, time, and a presumably wide culture gap.”
But, that was over 40 years ago...so what have we been doing lately to reach extraterrestrials?
In November 2018 an article published in the Astrophysical Journal written by James Clark and Kerri Cahoy, researchers at MIT, posit that it may be a little be easier to reach our cosmic neighbors if we mark our position with bright lights. Well, not bright to us because the several million watt laser would shine with infrared light.
This kind of light could be detected as far as 20,000 light-years away. In that distance, there are about 10 billion start systems. As SFGate.com notes, “this would be the mother of all porch lights.” It is also important to note that this would also be enough light to be deemed “non-natural” so other space travelers would know the light was left purposefully on.
However, this isn’t the only idea to contact otherworldly beings. While not as far reaching, in 2017 astronomers sent a radio message to a neighboring star system, specifically Luyten’s star (GJ 273) which is a mere 12 light years away and there is a planet in the system that is in the habitable zone, meaning it might harbor liquid and even life.
This new message was beamed from an antenna in Norway for 8 hours over a 3-day period. According to New Scientist the new message “Begins with information about counting, arithmetic, geometry, and trigonometry, and includes a description of the radio waves that carry the message, as well as a tutorial on clocks and timekeeping, to see if any potential inhabitants of GJ 273b have an understanding of time similar to our own.”
We haven’t heard anything back (yet) but it could take up to 25 years to receive a reply message.
In 2018, SETI is launching a competition to compose a new message for SETI. According to Wired.co.uk ,”This time though, the scientists want to involve school kids through an online competition. To enter, teams of students will first have to solve puzzles about space exploration, Arecibo and astronomy. Only the first 45 teams to solve the puzzles will be able to submit a design that could be beamed beyond the Solar System – although the direction has yet to be decided. The interstellar message is due to be broadcast in November next year.”
Not everyone thinks contacting aliens is a good idea. In fact, there were 28 signatories who warned against the possible dangers involved in messaging extraterrestrial intelligence. Wired.co.uk quotes a portion of that letter which says, “We know nothing of [ET’s] intentions and capabilities, and it is impossible to predict whether [ET] will be benign or hostile,” wrote the authors of the letter, including Elon Musk. Stephen Hawking, too, has warned of the dangers of contacting an alien civilisation that may be much more advanced than us.”
Artist impression of a habitable exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf. (ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger)