METI, an organisation aiming to make contact with other civilisations, will send out its second message from Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in Cornwall, UK
12 April 2022
A message containing scientific data and samples of music will be broadcast to a star system 39 light years from Earth in the hope of sparking conversation with an advanced alien intelligence.
The message is only the second to be transmitted by the Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) organisation, based in San Francisco. Unlike the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) group, METI aims to proactively contact other civilisations rather than just listen for evidence of them. Sending such messages requires hugely powerful transmitters because the strength of the signal, even when tightly focused, rapidly diminishes in strength over the enormous distances required.
The message will be sent on 4 October from the Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station in Cornwall, UK, towards TRAPPIST-1, a star orbited by at least seven planets. Three of these small worlds lie within the so-called Goldilocks zone where water could remain liquid and potentially support life.
Douglas Vakoch at METI says the transmission will be formed from short pulses sent in four different phases of the same frequency. The beginning will be a series of bursts to identify it as an artificial message, and it will then go on to describe simple counting, set out details of the periodic table and relay depictions of atoms, before including several musical samples.
“Our goal is to have redundant information, to have multiple ways of representing that information, to have the humility to say that what seems obvious to us may not be obvious to the extraterrestrials,” says Vakoch. “So let’s send them information in as many formats with the hope that one of them will make sense.”
The music portion of the message will include Ode 1. Ode to the Herald of God. A Beauty of the Earth by Eduard Artemyev and Journey Through the Asteroid Belt by The Comet is Coming, as well as tracks from DJs and musicians performing at the Stihia festival in Muynak, Uzbekistan, which is held to highlight the environmental impact of the shrinking of the Aral Sea.
If any life forms in the TRAPPIST-1 system get the message and reply, it will be around 80 years before we receive word from them, says Vakoch. “If we get a reply back from the first half a dozen or dozen stars that we target, that means effectively the universe is chock full of intelligent life,” he says.
“We’re testing a version of the zoo hypothesis – that, in fact, they are out there, they already know that we’re here, but in order to gain access to the galactic club, we have to submit an application and maybe even pay a little dues,” says Vakoch. “So this is our attempt to pay our dues, and see if they’ll welcome us into the club.”
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