Blowing up the Earth’s position in hopes of reaching aliens is a controversial idea – two teams of scientists are doing it anyway

If a person gets lost in the wilderness, they have two options. They are easily identifiable by searching civilizations, lighting fires, or writing HELP in large letters. For scientists interested in the question of whether intelligent aliens exist, the possibilities are similar.

For over 70 years, astronomers have searched for radio or light signals from other civilizations in search of extraterrestrial intelligence called SETI. Most scientists are convinced that life exists on many of her 300 million possible worlds in the Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers also believe that some life forms have evolved intelligence and technology. However, no signal from another civilization has been detected, a mystery dubbed “The Great Silence”.

While SETI has long been part of mainstream science, METI, or transmission of extraterrestrial intelligence, is much less common.

I am an astronomy professor and have written extensively on the search for life in the universe. We also serve on the advisory board of a non-profit research organization that designs messages to be sent to extraterrestrial civilizations.

In the coming months, his two teams of astronomers will send messages into space, trying to communicate with intelligent aliens who may be listening there. These efforts are like building a big campfire in the woods and hoping that someone will find you.


The Pioneer 10 spacecraft carries this plate containing some basic information about humans and the Earth. Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, Linda Salzman-Sagan, NASA Ames Research Center via Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Early attempts to contact life beyond Earth were surreal messages in bottles.

In 1972, NASA launched the Pioneer 10 rover toward Jupiter, carrying a plaque with drawings and symbols of a man and a woman showing where the rover came from. In 1977, NASA followed suit with the famous gold disc mounted on the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

These spacecraft, as well as the twins Pioneer 11 and Voyager 2, are all now far from the orbits of the outer planets. But in the vast universe, the chances of finding these and other physical objects are surprisingly slim.

Electromagnetic radiation is a much more powerful beacon.

Astronomers broadcast the first radio message designed for extraterrestrial ears in 1974 from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. A series of 1’s and 0’s designed to convey simple information about humanity and biology was sent to the globular cluster M13. M13 is 25,000 light years away, so don’t hold your breath for answers. In addition to these deliberate attempts to send messages to extraterrestrial life, whimsical signals from television and radio broadcasts have leaked into space for nearly a century. This ever-expanding chat bubble on Earth has already reached millions of stars. But there is a big difference between focused bursts and diffuse leaks of radio waves from giant telescopes. The faint signals from shows like “I Love Lucy” fade away under the hum of radiation left just after the Big Bang left… the solar system.


China’s new FAST telescope is the largest radio telescope ever built and will be used to broadcast messages towards the center of the galaxy. Ou Dongqu/Xinhua via Getty Images

send a new message

Nearly half a century after the Arecibo message, two international teams of astronomers are planning a new attempt at extraterrestrial communications. One uses a huge new radio telescope, the other chooses a compelling new target.

His one of these new messages will be broadcast from the world’s largest radio telescope in China in 2023. A 500-meter-diameter telescope sends out a series of radio pulses across a large area of ​​the sky. These on-off pulses are like the 1s and 0s of digital information.

The messages are called “galactic beacons” and contain prime numbers and mathematical operators, the biochemistry of life, human forms, the position of the Earth, and timestamps. The team will broadcast messages to millions of star clusters near the center of the Milky Way, about 10,000 to 20,000 light-years from Earth. This maximizes the pool of potential aliens, but it means it will be tens of thousands of years before Earth has an answer.

Another attempt he’s aimed at only one star, but could get a much quicker response. On October 4, 2022, a team from the British Goonhilly satellite earth station will send a message to the TRAPPIST-1 star. On this planet he has seven planets, three of which are Earth-like worlds in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”. TRAPPIST-1 is only 39 light-years away, so it could take just 78 years for intelligent life to receive the message and for Earth to have the answer.


The center of the Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life, but some researchers believe contact with extraterrestrial life is a bad idea. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/CXC/STScI

ethical issues

The possibility of contact with aliens is fraught with ethical issues, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is no exception.

The first is:Who is the representative of the earth? With no international consultation with the public, decisions about which messages to send and where are in the hands of a small group of interested scientists.

But there are deeper issues as well. Of course, if you get lost in the woods, it’s good to be found. When it comes to whether humans should send messages to extraterrestrials, the answer is not so clear.

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Before his death, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking spoke candidly about the dangers of technological contact with extraterrestrial life. He argued that if they were given their location on Earth, they could maliciously destroy humanity. of people are not aware of the additional risk. And I’m interested. Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner bid $1 million for the best design of the new message and how to effectively deliver it.

There are currently no international regulations by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, so although there are concerns, the experiment continues.

Intelligent aliens remain the realm of science his fiction for now. Books like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem offer a vague and thought-provoking perspective on what a successful METI effort might look like. Not a good ending for humanity in the book. If humans ever come into contact in real life, I hope the aliens will come in peace.

This story has been updated to clarify where the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft are located in the solar system.


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