After decades of unsuccessful celestial scans to intercept possible alien messages, it’s time to try one of the basic rules of intergalactic etiquette: say « hello » first.
Starting the conversation is the role of METI (for Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) based in San Francisco, which therefore plans to send messages to other worlds. By 2018, the project aims to send messages via radio or laser signals — the mathematical equivalent of « we’re here and we’d like to chat! » to a rocky planet circling our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, and then eventually to more distant quarters hundreds or thousands of light-years from Earth.
This project would thus be the first effort of humankind to send powerful, repeated and intentional messages into space by targeting the same stars over months or even years: This could be the start of a beautiful friendship said Douglas Vakoch, president of METI and former director of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI). » If we want to start an exchange over several generations, we must learn to share information « .
Founded last year, the international group will host two workshops from 2017: one in Paris and the other in Saint-Louis. The organization also plans to begin fundraising for an estimated $1 million annual budget needed to pay researchers and build a powerful transmitter. Part of the mission will include understanding how to create the ideal message to say “Hello”.
A controversial project
Like any project aimed at making contact with extraterrestrial life, this one is divisive. Opposed to this effort, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, who urged mankind to » lower the volume » and not » draw attention « . Others wonder, following the example of physicist Mark Buchanan: If aliens are hostile, do we really want them to know where we are?“. Andrew Fraknoi, chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College goes even further: We are just children wading through a 13.8 billion year old galaxy. and « baby stammering is not always appreciated in adult conversation « .
Others, on the other hand, support the effort. » I would be very happy if this were done said Seth Shostak, principal astronomer at the SETI Institute. » I think there is something to learn, nothing to fear and at least the possibility of discovering something truly revolutionary: we have company nearby « . Of course, it’s not just about “waiting” on the phone, like any after-sales service. Granted, our nearest neighbour, Proxima b, is only 4.25 light-years away, so any answer would take at least more than eight years to reach us, but most of the planets now known to be » capable of supporting life are located thousands of light-years away. Also, the waiting time for a response is far longer than a single human life. The project is therefore multi-generational.
So if you were to “text” aliens, what would your message be? Early ideas suggest » show our love of math, by pulsing a sequence of simple numbers — from 1 to 10 explains one of the researchers. » We could also describe what we are made of, by pulsing the atomic numbers of the elements in the periodic table for example « . Still, these mathematical and repeated messages will have to be able to cover millennia. Whether we’ll live long enough to hold the end of the conversation, that’s a purely earthly matter.