PHONE HOME: Message Beamed to Closest Habitable Alien Planet

A team of scientists has sent a message to Luyten’s star system, which houses a “super Earth” that’s just over twelve light years away…and, according to researchers, might support life.

METI International, Spain’s Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia, and musicians and artists of Sónar, an art-meets-technology festival in Barcelona, teamed up for the project.

The initiative was called “Sónar Calling GJ 273b,” and it’s really just a small part of what humans ought to be doing regularly in the future according to its members.

Space.com reports:

Though the message was designed to provoke a response from the hypothetical denizens of GJ 273b, the main goal in sending the communication involved laying a foundation for the future, said team member Douglas Vakoch, president of METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

“It is a prototype for what I think we would most likely need to do 100 times, or 1,000 times, or 1 million times,” Vakoch told Space.com. “To me, the big success of the project will come if, 25 years from now, there’s someone who remembers to look [for a response]. If we could accomplish that, that would be a radical shift of perspective.”

Indeed, humanity’s demonstrable penchant for short-term thinking has prompted some skepticism within the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) community about METI as a viable strategy, Vakoch said. (METI is also known as “active SETI.” “Traditional” SETI involves listening and looking for signals that could be from E.T.)

METI means to send messages to exoplanets that could support life.

Yet some scientists think it’s one thing to listen for signs of extra-terrestrial civilizations, but a very bad idea to try to contact them. In 2015, the famed theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking announced his support for Breakthrough Listen, an initiative to expand humanity’s search for life in the universe.

Yet Hawking, along with several others, has repeatedly expressed distaste for attempts at contact. In 2010, he said “we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”

Some scientists think that when you’re lost in the jungle, and you don’t know what’s out there, you probably shouldn’t scream.

METI even released a poll on Twitter, to see how people on social media feel.

According to Scientific American, the message to Luyten’s star kept things simple in comparison to previous messages from Earth:

The exoplanet is a super-Earth named GJ 273b, which orbits Luyten’s Star, a red dwarf only 12.4 light years from our solar system. It has the distinction of being the nearest known exoplanet that is potentially habitable while also being in view of the two-megawatt transmitter of the European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association (EISCAT) in Tromsø, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. On three successive days in mid-October 2017, a project dubbed “Sónar Calling GJ 273b” celebrated the 25th anniversary of Barcelona’s Sónar music festival with radio transmissions from EISCAT, which included a sampling of music by the festival’s artists.

To increase the intelligibility of the signals, we at METI—a research organization dedicated to Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence—crafted a mathematical and scientific tutorial within the transmissions. METI’s tutorial differs from earlier interstellar messages in several ways. Past messages—like the radio message transmitted from a radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and the Golden Record onboard NASA’s Voyager spacecraft—have attempted to be encyclopedic in scope. The downside of trying to say everything in an interstellar message is that we are communicating so much information that it may come across as an incoherent jumble. METI’s message takes the opposite approach, explaining a few essentials of math and science with greater depth and clarity.

If there is life on GJ 273b, it will take just over twelve years for the Sónar Calling message to reach them. We can expect a similar wait for any answer.

Assuming the aliens can’t travel close to light speed, we’ll have to wait a little longer for the invasion.