Published by Science Recorder | June 2013
by L. Clark Tate
“E.T. phone home” is taking on a whole new meaning. Lone Signal, a startup company focusing on space and technology, is combining our collective fascination with extraterrestrial life, capitalism, and science in a way rarely seen outside the movie theater. On July 18th they will send text messages and mobile photos from around the globe, into deep space, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
More specifically, the texts will be transmitted towards Gliese 526, a red dwarf star orbited by planets with earth-like atmospheres that may be inhabitable, or inhabited. To catapult the signal far enough, Lone Signal took out a 30-year lease on the Jamesburg Earth Station radio telescope near Carmel, California.
This is not the world’s first METI (messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence). A cryptic message was first beamed to a star cluster 25,000 light years away in the constellation Hercules. Leaving Earth via the Puerto Rican Arecibo radio telescope in November of 1974; it has yet to reach its target. Only 17.6 light years away, it will still be 2050 before a response would have enough time to return from Gliese 526.
Jacob Haqq-Misra, Lone Star’s chief science officer and a researcher at Seattle’s Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, stated that this project seeks to “inspire a lot of passion in the space sciences and get people thinking about their role in the greater universe.”
In addition to the array of human thought and emotion that will ribbon off in mid-July, will be the mundane details of our planet. Earth’s position in the universe, the periodic table, and a definition of hydrogen (the most common element in the known universe) in binary code will also be sent, continuously, as a carrier signal.
How much does such an intergalactic phone plan cost? It is surprisingly affordable. The first text, up to 144 characters, is free. Lone Signal then requires that you purchase a block of four credits for 99¢. One credit shoots off a text, three will send off your photos. For those with a lot to say 4,000 credits can be purchased for a mere $99.99. Messages will be transmitted once a month.
Perhaps fueled by blockbusters less family friendly than E.T., some worry that announcing ourselves to other, potentially dangerous, intelligent life is reckless. Others, including Seth Shostak, a SETI Institute astronomer, and Haqq-Misra feel that such worries are unnecessary. They believe that over 70 years of electromagnetic transmissions have already given us away.
Haqq-Misra, collaborated on a paper discussing the potential dangers of intergalactic communication. The paper concluded that while such fears are likely unfounded, we don’t really know. What we do know, in the words of Lone Signal, is, “Earth Calling. July 18th.”