Science

NASA to aliens: Stay tuned for a group message from humanity

Artist conceptualization of the unsuspecting New Horizons spacecraft

Above: Artist conceptualization of the unsuspecting New Horizons spacecraft

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Apparently, NASA doesn’t worry too much that hostile aliens might receive a message from Earth and say, in so many of their word-forms, “Thanks for the invitation.”

That must be the attitude of this most optimistic of governmental agencies, considering news that the New Horizons spacecraft is expected to carry a digital greeting from our species as it heads out of our solar system.

Right now, New Horizons is somewhere beyond Jupiter, hurtling toward a flyby of ex-planet Pluto in about a year. Launched in 2006, the probe’s job description includes taking the first close photos of Pluto’s surface and, after that, exploration of the asteroid-and-planetoid traffic jam otherwise known as the Kuiper Belt.

At that point, the plan is to transmit a digital message representing humanity to the craft, safely tucked inside until some alien can read it and decide whether we’re worth invading.

The previous four Earth-born objects to leave the solar system — Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 — all carried greetings for extraterrestrials. The Pioneers had message plaques, and the Voyagers bore Golden Records. So we didn’t want the aliens to think, when they gobbled up New Horizons, that we weren’t still thinking of them.

Last September, the Hawaii-based New Horizons Message Initiative (NHMI) launched a petition to transmit a One Earth message to New Horizons.

The effort was conceived and developed by astronomical artist Jon Lomberg, who was the design director for the Voyager Golden Records and a collaborator of astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan. He announced in May that, in response to the petition, NASA has given thumbs up to the project.

The plaques and records, however, were intended to last eons, while the computer storage of the message on New Horizons is expected to last only a few decades — unless, of course, the aliens have some killer message-recovering tech.

NHMI wants the 100MB message to represent a self-portrait of planet Earth, although it’s not yet clear if the planet can sit still long enough to get a good one. To make what NHMI is calling the digital “human fingerprint” will require the combined effort of scientists, artists, writers, musicians, entertainers, and “the input of people from every walk of life and many different perspectives.”

The names of the first 10,000 humans who signed the petition to NASA will also be included in the message. Content finalists will be determined by online voting — but, fortunately for Earth’s reputation out there, NHMI and NASA will have final approval.

At the very least, the alien recipients might get an enjoyable relief from their weird life.

The collection and merging of those many content contributions over the next three years will cost about $500,000, which will be entirely funded with non-NASA money via a Kickstarter campaign conducted by NHMI. It is expected to kick off in August.

Via Wired