Scientists have broadcast a message to try to teach aliens about music
The group of alien-hunters at METI International (Messaging Extraterrestrial Institute) want to try and teach aliens about human culture, and what better way to do that than through music? To paraphrase Taylor Swift: “Nice to meet you, aliens, where you been? I can show you incredible things.”.
Using EISCAT’s 930MHz radio transmitter, which is located in the tiny city of Tromso in Norway, METI transmitted a message to the exoplanet of GJ 273b, a very potentially habitable world 12 light years away. GJ 273b, which is also called Luyten’s Star, is thought to house a planet that exists in the Goldilocks Zone – the sweet spot where liquid water can exist without evaporating. The message is the first pre-coded transmission of significance since the group’s formation in 2015. Having constructed the message in partnership with the Spanish Sónar Music Festival and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia, the group hope to teach aliens all about music, and eventually, give them a hand with creating their own Shostakovich masterpiece.
METI used the radio transmitter to send sonar wave signals as binary code at frequencies of 929.0MHz and 930.2MHz. The antenna broadcasted the binary code three times over three days back in October 2016. The length of the entire transmission lasted 33 minutes, 125 bits per second with a cosmic clock set and reset to reflect the transmission time. Think a melody of beeping boops, which as every 50s sci-fi fan knows, is the universal language for extraterrestrial hunters.
But music actually plays a bigger role in all of this than just a sequence of bleeping bloops. METI had initially wanted to transmit something that reflected humanity’s altruism, but the director of the EISCAT radio transmitter wanted to broadcast something that would convey the culture of Earth. And the universal language of music is the most obvious choice. Ten-second clips of music were specially commissioned for the transmission and included the likes of rock-duo Matmos, sound artist Holly Herndon, and French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, among others.
“Practically speaking, if we get a signal from Luyten’s Star, it will mean the Milky Way is teeming with life,” said Douglas Vakoch, head of METI, to CNET. “It’s certainly possible. It seems more likely that we’ll need to target not just one star but hundreds, thousands or millions before we get a reply back.”
Next April, they plan to send a more in-depth musical tutorial to any inhabitants of GJ 273b.
“We will turn the EISCAT transmitter into a musical instrument sending basic melodies by transmitting pulses at a series of different radio frequencies that maintain the same sort of intervals between one another that we see in the intervals between musical notes,” Vakoch told Geekwire.
The April 2018 transmission will be able to send actual melodies made up from the EISCAT transmitter, turning a device made for observing Northern Lights into a melodious musical instrument.
Here’s hoping METI hit gold with the targeting of GJ 273b and we get a reply. Most importantly though, let’s hope they enjoy METI’s musical offerings, or we might be in trouble. In any case, we’ll hear back from any civilians up on GJ 273b by 2042 at the very earliest, by which time we’ll probably be all too distracted by our iPhone 33s.
Image: Gage Skidmore used under Creative Commons