Tourist attractions dole out millions on advertising to entice visitors to travel to their location, spend money and go back and tell their friends to do the same. If no one is showing up, it could be the message – while it may have a lot of them, Beaver, Oklahoma’s, slogan is “Cow chip capital of the world.” Is that the best they can do? The same may be true when it comes to extraterrestrials visiting Earth – as Enrico Fermi once asked, “Where are they?” NASA has decided it could be the message sent to intelligent space civilizations back in 1974, so the space agency is developing a new one. ‘Earth is for lovers’?
“The decision to send a new message into the cosmos has been hotly debated since the pioneering work of Carl Sagan, Frank Drake and some others in the SETI community famously pro-communication with possible ETI in the Milky Way.”
In their new proposal, scientists from the Jet Propulsion Lab first recognize the message composed and sent out in 1974 by popular astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan and Frank Drake of the ‘Drake equation’ which estimated that there’s a huge number of intelligent civilizations out there waiting to hear from us. Theirs was the binary ‘Arecibo message’ beamed from the late great Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico and included the numbers one to ten, the atomic numbers of the elements that make up DNA, and graphic images of a human being, the Solar System and the Arecibo radio telescope.
Would that convince you to visit Earth?
The Arecibo message has already outlived the Arecibo telescope but is still over 24,000 years from reaching its target – the M13 globular cluster. The ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ message was proposed to send more information in an updated format to different and closer star clusters – 6,000 to 20,000 light years away – which have been identified since 1974 as having a high probability of intelligent life. The message will be sent using stronger telescopes – the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope in China and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California.
Wait a minute … those telescopes are powerful but, as the Eagles sang in ‘Hotel California’, they are “programmed to receive.”
Right you are, Eagles and astronomy fans. The JPL researchers are hoping that upcoming upgrades will allow them to send. What will they be sending in the binary ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ message that is deemed to be a better galactic travel brochure than the Arecibo Message? An image of the four building blocks of DNA. A timeline from the Big Bang to when the message was sent which shows the dates of major achievements Newton’s laws, Einstein’s theory of relativity and the landing of a human on the Moon. Digital images of the solar system and the Sun and our location in the galaxy. Digitized images of people. And finally, an initiation to reply to the message with an image of the telescope to send it to.
Would THAT convince you to visit Earth? How about at least texting a reply?
“As discussed earlier, this message’s ultimate goal is to start a dialogue with ETI – no matter how far in the future that might occur.”
We’ve got the message – now we need the messenger. Hopefully, FAST or the Allen Telescope Array will be capable of transmitting soon. Unfortunately, even at the speed of light, we won’t be here to read the replies thousands of years from now. That doesn’t discourage the JPL scientists working on it, just as it didn’t discourage Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. They think some intelligent civilization is just waiting to hear about us.
“Humanity has, we contend, a compelling story to share and the desire to know of others’—and now has the means to do so.”
Just don’t send them that Twilight Zone episode about aliens eating humans.