Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence

In my book, “The Grail of the Unicorn Planet” the extraterrestrials that live on the planet Altair are highly advanced and benevolent.  They visit Earth, unknown to most of us but if they did show their faces they would be friendly. However some people believe that to try and make contact with aliens and send messages to outer space is foolhardy and even dangerous. David Brun, scientist and science fiction author and considers it may be risky to reveal Earth’s location to alien civilisations.  Another notable critic is the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, who has said, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans,”

Nevertheless, we have been sending messages since 1974 and are continuing to do so. So what messages have been sent and where have we sent them?

Well, the first time humans tried signaling aliens was in 1974, from the Arecebo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.  The message was aimed at a cluster of stars called M13, 25.000 light years away.  An answer if one ever comes will come back in 50,000 years, so perhaps we do not need to worry too much for after all the earth may not survive for that long.

The <em>Arecebo message</em>  used the binary system and consisted of the numbers one through to ten, then the atomic numbers of basic elements ,  formulas for sugars and bases of the nucleotides of DNA, the double helix structure of DNA, a figure of a human being and its height, the population of earth, a diagram of our solar system and an image of the Arecebo telescope with its diameter.

Perhaps the most bizarre message of all that was sent was the <em>Poetica Vaginal.  </em>Joe Davis is an artist and research affiliate at Massachusetts Institute of techology.  He was concerned that no image of humans had been sent into space representing the details of human genitals or reproduction.  So he made a message of the vaginal contractions of ballet dancers which were beamed from MIT’s Millstone Hill radar to Epsilon Endani, Tau Ceti and two other stars.  However, only a few minutes of footage was transmitted before the US air force which had jursidiction over this facility shut the project down. Nevertheless, the vaginal sounds that were sent will have reached Epsilon Endani in 1996 and Tau Ceti in 1998. Who knows what any extraterrestrials will make of the message or what sort of reply we should expect.

The <em>Cosmic Call</em> messages were designed with a copy of the Arecebo message, a bilingual Image glossary as well as text, video and other image files submitted for transmission by everyday people around the world.  They were transmitted to various constellations such as Cygnus and Andromeda in 1999 and 2003.

The <em>Teen-age </em>messages were composed by teenagers and four Russian scientists, mainly led by Alexander Zaitsev, a Russian engineer at the Russian Acedemy of Sciences in Moscow.  It consisted of three parts, the first being a coherant sounding radio signal with a slow Doppler wavelength in order to help extraterrestials recognise it as a signal. The second was analog information representing musical mellodies performed on the Theremin.  This electrical musical instrument produces a signal which is easily detectable across interstellar distances.  The third represented a well known Arecebo-like binary digital information and a greeting in Russian and English.  This message was sent in 2001 to six different constellations, including 47 Ursae Majoris, the first star to be found with a similar solar system to ours. The message, if there is anyone there to listen will arrive in 2047.

After this, a website was beamed into space  by a company called Deep Space Communications Network in 2005.  The website is called <em>Craigslist</em> and it beams messages from members of the general public into space. However as it sends messages into open space rather than to specific stars, it is unlikely anybody will pick them up.

Next, in February 2008, the Beatles song <em>Across the Universe</em> was sent out by NASA to commemorate the 50<sup>th</sup> anniversary of the agency’s founding.  The message was aimed at Polaris, the Pole Star, and should arrive there in in 2439.  However, Zaitsev, the Russian engineer behind the Cosmic Call and Teen-age messages, criticised the message stating that there were several defects in the method of transmission and also that Polaris is a super giant star that proably cannot support life.

Zaitsev, not content with the Cosmic Call and Teen-age messages set up a new project called <em>A Message from Earth.  </em>This comprised of 501 messages selected by a competition on the social network site Bebo.  As well as a million members of the public, various celebrities suggested messages, including the X Files actress Gillian Anderson and the Pop group McFly. All these people are now effectively ambassadors for the human race.

Lucy Hawking, writer in residence for Arizona State University’s Origins project and Stephen Hawking’s daughter ignored her fathers warning that aliens may be hostile and in February 2011 launched a writing contest called “Dear Aliens”. It asked students to answer “What would you say to extraterrestrials if earthlings are contacted from Outer Space? If you had to speak for humanity what would you say?  Over 1,000 messages were submitted to the contest.  Benjamin Lee, a seventh-grade student from Mesa, Arizona won the contest. Despite Stephen Hawking’s grim warning against attemping alien contact, in April 2011 Lee’s message was beamed into space, where it was bounced off the moon.

The message reads “Dear Aliens, Please help us save our world.  Not from you, from ourselves. We are destroying our planet and need help from more technologically advanced beings.  Our planet is polluted, many nations are at war, there is civil unrest and our economy is in turmoil.”

Lets hope that any extraterrestrials hearing the message are philanthropic and amiable, like the Altairians in my book. And that Stephen Hawking doesn’t get the chance to say “I told you so” to his daughter.

Information contained in this blog taken from

<h1>Earth calling: A short history of radio messages to ET . New Scientist. Space. 20 January 2010 Michael Marshall.</h1>

<h1>Is Stephen Hawking right about aliens? Alok Jha, The Guardian 30 April 2010.</h1>

<h1>Hawking: Aliens may pose a risk to Earth, staff and news service reports. 25 April 2010.</h1>

<h1>Messages to extraterrestials. Jason McClellen 30 August 2011.</h1>