“Earth calling. Can you hear us?”
Aliens (they are out there, right?) took too long to contact us. So now we’ve taken things into our own hands—to crowdsource “hailing messages".
On June 17th, the Lone Signal project began transmitting messages written by the public from the Jamesburg Earth Station in central California. The first target: Gliese 526.
This red dwarf appears in the Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems as a good candidate to support intelligent life. Red dwarfs are abundant and survive for a relatively long time. A potentially habitable planet would orbit this type of star closely, making it easier for astronomers to detect. And it lies only 17.6 light-years away from Earth, which makes it an even more appealing target!
So, great target, but what are we planning to send? Text messages from Earth? The idea is not so far-fetched, says Lone Signal co-founder Pierre Fabre. “We’re targeting the most logical, nearest stars now.” Scientists and engineers have sent carefully-encoded interstellar radio messages in the past, but now messages can be sent by anyone with Internet access.
“It’s never been the case that anyone on the face of the Earth can commune with the cosmos, and we are opening up that portal to the masses,” said Lone Signal chief marketing officer Ernesto Qualizza.
The 144-character messages are emitted in one of two adjacent radio beams, the other containing a looped message written in computer code by astronomer Michael Busch. His message describes Earth’s position in the Universe, the elements of the periodic table, and the structure of a hydrogen atom.
To detect our messages, aliens near Gliese 526 will need a radio interferometer like the ones at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). If they decode our messages, perhaps they will also decide to respond.
Lone Signal wants to harness human curiosity to expand our knowledge of the Universe around us. Participate here!
Alyssa Keimach is an astronomy and astrophysics student at the University of Michigan and interns for the Morrison Planetarium.