The curious thing about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is that we have uncovered very little evidence for the existence of any intelligence beyond Earth in the 60 years since the search began. So, rather than just listening, waiting for a signal in the dark, there are projects that hope to send a message to a hypothetical intelligent alien race - a concept known as METI, or Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
And now, in the hope of uniting people around the globe in a long-duration project to send a radio "message in a bottle" METI signal, a crowd-funded project utilizing a refurbished radio telescope in California has begun its work.
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On June 17, Lone Signal will go online, asking anyone with an internet connection to contribute. You'll be able to pen your own message, or even send a photo, to the Universe and Lone Signal will beam it. Set up by a group of businessmen and entrepreneurs, the concept's strength is the hope that this will represent a time capsule for humans while attempting to make the ultimate phonecall. It will also begin a conversation about science and our place in the Cosmos.
"As soon as I can remember, I looked up at the stars and I thought, ‘Is there anybody looking back at me?' I think there's just an inherent curiosity we all have," Lone Signal chief marketing officer Ernesto Qualizza said during a press announcement in New York on Tuesday. "We all want to see what's on the other side of the next hill, and this is an extension of that curiosity."
The strength of the Lone Signal project is that it will be directed and continuous. Whereas in the past, METI projects have consisted of a single, short burst of radio waves, Lone Signal will be the world's first continuous METI signal. Also, as we are getting smarter with identifying which stars have the higher potential for supporting habitable worlds, thereby increasing the chances of the evolution of intelligent beings capable of receiving such a signal, Lone Signal will continuously point at Gliese 526, a red dwarf star only 18 light-years from Earth. It is thought that Gliese 526 may play host to a system of worlds with potentially habitable qualities, but other nearby stars will also be targeted in the future.
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"We want it to be fun, but we're also looking at long-term strategy," Lone Signal co-founder Pierre Fabre said. "We're targeting the most logical, nearest stars now."
Lone Signal will use the Jamesburg Earth Station radio dish in Carmel Valley, Calif., that was constructed in 1968 to support the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. Lone Signal has signed a 30 year lease with the station with hopes that this period may be extended.
The radio antennae will transmit multiple signals, but will lead with a "hailing message" developed by astronomer Michael Busch that should be easy to decode by any sufficiently advanced alien civilization. According to the researchers, if ET has built an equivalent of the SETI Allen Telescope Array (ATA), they should easily pick up the signal. The signal itself will be composed of 1′s and 0′s (binary) and will contain basic information about our civilization, our solar system and some basic science, such as the definition of the hydrogen atom.
In an adjacent frequency to the repeating hailing message will be the crowd-sourced "beams" sent from the citizens of Earth participating in Lone Signal.
"It's important that it is feasible for anyone to take part in this experiment because it is so unique," Qualizza said. "It's never been that case that anyone on the face of the Earth can commune with the cosmos, and we are opening up that portal to the masses."
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For the participants, there will be plenty of opportunities to share their beams via social media, see where beams are being sent from around the world and keep tabs on how far your message has traveled through space.
Previous METI attempts have been short-term, which would make it difficult for any receiving alien race to intercept the message. Take the "Wow!" signal, that may or may not have been alien in origin, was only a very short burst making the signal difficult to trace and led many to believe it was just noise. A continuous signal, like Lone Signal, is therefore desirable if we are to get noticed by ET and not disregarded as static.
And by making this project continuous, the human race will have our voices heard throughout the Universe long after our planet has been extinguished.
"There really is a time capsule argument," said Lone Signal chief science officer Jacob Haqq-Misra. "Even if you're not communicating with a ‘watcher' now, you're putting this time capsule out into space for all of time."
Want to participate? Browse the Lone Signal website and start beaming your messages into deep space.
Image: The Lone Signal logo