Are We Alone? NASA Should Send This New Message To Extraterrestrials With An RSVP And Our Cosmic Coordinates Say Scientists
Should we transmit another message to possible extraterrestrial intelligences in the Milky Way galaxy? Yes, say a team of scientists led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles, who have developed a binary-coded message that contains images of humans, our cosmic address and a request to RSVP.
This so-called “Beacon in the Galaxy” will carry on a tradition started in 1974 when scientists used the now-defunct Arecibo radio telescope to send a message into space containing basic information about us and our planet.
What is the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy?’
It’s an update to Frank Drake’s famous Arecibo message, which was supposed to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our Milky Way galaxy.
The Arecibo message was more of a demonstration of human technological prowess than it was a description of mankind and our place in space in simple pictorial terms. In the same way, the “Beacon in the Galaxy” will be coded in binary. The notion has been submitted to the Journal of Galaxies as a pre-print.
What happened to the ‘Arecibo message?’
Since the message’s objective, M13, a globular cluster of ancient stars, is 25,000 light-years away and radio signals travel at the speed of light, the message—sent at a wavelength of 126 millimeters—has only been traveling for 48 years. “The electromagnetic waves conveying the Arecibo Message have traversed less than 0.2% of the distance to their intended target,” reads the paper.
What form would the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ take?
The “Beacon in the Galaxy” is an attempt to build a worldwide means of communication based on basic mathematical and physical ideas that could be decoded and interpreted by intelligences not of this planet.
Cue binary coding (the simplest form of mathematics and likely universal across all intelligence), and a message that focuses almost entirely on mathematics and physics rather than possibly confusing human culture and language. It’s also carefully structured to elicit the kind of response humans would expect from an extraterrestrial intelligence; it’s an invitation to a multi-century cosmic conversation.
What is in the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy?’
- Information on the biochemical composition of life on Earth (including a visual depiction of the four constituent bases of DNA: adenosine, cytidine, guanosine, and thymidine).
- A timeline that starts with the Big Bang to show the universal moment the signal was delivered (as well as scientific dates for events that progressed humanity, such as Isaac Newton finding his laws of motion and force, Einstein’s Relativity, the beginning of the Space Age, and the 1969 Moon landing).
- The time-scale of the Solar System position in the Milky Way in relation with known globular clusters (so aliens know where to beam their reply and when to expect their message to arrive).
- Digitized depictions of the Solar System and Earth’s surface.
- Digitized images of humans.
- An invitation for any receiving intelligences to respond (an image of the transmitting telescope and another generic telescope sending transmissions to each other).
Why do we need a ‘Beacon in the Galaxy?’
“Since the first faint flickering of sentience dawned in the primal minds of modern humans’ distant ancestors some hundred thousand generations ago, we have sought to communicate,” reads the paper.
According to the article, ancient sages gazed at the sky and pondered the most profound of all questions: are we alone? “It would take five millennium to progress from Sumerian cuneiform to the great radio telescopes of the 20th and 21st centuries – and with that, the means to finally begin seeking out an answer,” it reads.
How will the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ be transmitted?
The binary-coded radio wave will be sent using one of the world’s two largest and most powerful radio telescopes, the familiar dish-shaped Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST, also known as “Tianyan”) in Guizhou, southwest China, and the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Hat Creek, northern California.
FAST is the successor to the collapsed Arecibo radio telescope, but it has is overall performance and sensitivity are several times higher.
There is one small problem: both FAST and the ATA can only receive radio communications, not transmit them, however this may be addressed in future versions.
Where will the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ be transmitted to?
The authors recommend aiming for a star cluster between two and six kiloparsecs (kph) from the galaxy’s center, which they estimate to be a stellar cluster between two and six kiloparsecs (kph) from the galaxy’s center.
A kiloparsec is 3,260 light years, therefore we’re talking about a star cluster that’s between 6,000 and 20,000 light years away.
That’s a lot closer than the Arecibo Message’s aim… though not quite. “We maximize the chances of the message being received by an ETI,” reads the paper. “Thus, we maximize the probability of receiving a response in the distant future.”
When will the ‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ be transmitted?
It’s no coincidence that the “Beacon in the Galaxy” appears just before the Arecibo Message’s 50th anniversary, but the precise time is critical if it is to reach its intended destination.
The message would need to be broadcast when the separation angle between the Earth and the Sun is as large as feasible for maximum contrast, minimal radio interference, and little absorption by the Earth’s atmosphere. In any given year, that would be about March 30 or October 4.
What is the “Beacon in the Galaxy” actually for? “This message’s ultimate goal is to start a dialogue … no matter how far in the future that might occur,” reads the paper. “Humanity has a compelling story to share and the desire to know of others’—and now the means to do so.”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes!