SPACE.com | 14 August 2009
By Leonard David
HERE’S A TRULY long-distance message … one aimed more than 20 light-years away. A new website in Australia is gathering text messages from around the world, all to be beamed to a distant alien planet called Gliese 581d.
The clock is ticking to submit text messages of no longer than 160 characters – perhaps a signal that extraterrestrial life may have a case of attention deficit disorder. The project – called Hello From Earth ends Aug. 24.
Once the communiques are amassed, they will be transmitted from NASA’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla. The dispatched messages will join other “outworldly” attempts to reach out and touch ET, such as Pioneers 10 and 11 launched in the 1970s, each carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future.
Kick-starting the initiative, Science Minister Kim Carr entered the first message: “Hello from Australia on the planet we call Earth. These messages express our people’s dreams for the future. We want to share those dreams with you.”
Following the Pioneer spacecraft, NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 were both imbued with a more ambitious message, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. Those Voyager probes are toting a phonograph record – a gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.
Just last year, NASA broadcast the music of the Beatles to Polaris, the North Star. For this, the space agency used the 210-foot (64-meter) Deep Space Network antenna near Madrid, Spain. And years before that, Jamaican musician Bob Marley and his reggae rhythms were sent spaceward via a private venture called Cosmic Call.
The “Hello From Earth” site is a National Science Week initiative of the Australian science magazine, Cosmos. The project is also a salute to the International Year of Astronomy. Additional support for the undertaking includes that country’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, NASA, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Post-Detection Committee of the International Academy of Astronautics.
Kick-starting the initiative, Australian Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, entered the first message: “Hello from Australia on the planet we call Earth. These messages express our people’s dreams for the future. We want to share those dreams with you.”
Other e-mails are pouring in, such as this one from Santiago, Chile: “We’re trying to get over wars [on] our planet, but greed is greater that our dreams. Lots of us know that this is wrong and won’t give up! Hugs from little blue.”
From Ponce, Puerto Rico: “I should be alive when you get this, come find me I have a lot of questions to ask!”
And from one enterprising soul in Liege, Belgium: “Hi ET! We’re a company…looking to extend our market…any opportunity to do some business with you? Special price for you!”
From Liege, Belgium: “Hi ET! We’re a company … looking to extend our market …any opportunity to do some business with you? Special price for you!”
The planet on the receiving end of all this radio waving — Gliese 581d — is eight times the size of Earth and some 20.3 light-years away. That exoplanet was discovered in April 2007. Because of its size, the far-away world is labeled as a “Super Earth.”
In discussing the website, Cosmos editor, Wilson da Silva, points out: “We don’t know if there’s life on Gliese 581d and we don’t even know if there’s a technical civilization capable of detecting our signal. But we do know that it might have the conditions for life. And as soon as the conditions for life existed on Earth, life emerged.”
Da Silva adds that even under stellar express conditions, the signal won’t arrive until around December 2029. “And the question is…will we get a reply? No one knows…but why don’t we send a message and find out?” adds Jacqui Hayes, assistant editor for Cosmos magazine.
If you want to jump onto the bandwidth wagon, you can send your text message to another world by going to Hello From Earth.