You guys remember Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, right? It’s the movie that turned Carl Sagan’s science into science fiction, but mostly remained entertaining while doing so. I’m less certain it’s because the movie was actually good, rather than because, even within a fictional narrative, the possibility of reaching out and communicating with extraterrestrials is exciting.
The Lone Signal project — backed by scientists, businessmen, and entrepreneurs — isn’t so much interested in listening for the sounds of aliens as they are in getting aliens to listen to us. Having signed a 30-year lease to use the Jamesburg Earth Station, a California radio dish built in 1968, Lone Signal will begin transmitting messages aimed directly at the star system Gliese 526, which shows a good chance of harboring habitable planets, and which is located 17.6 light-years from Earth. The plan is to branch out and send signals to other areas of the galaxy, but that would take more financing. Assuming we don’t actually contact something first.
To cover some of those costs, Lone Signal is reaching out to anyone with an Internet connection and a social-minded outlook. Just log in to their website and you’ll be allowed to send one free text message that will be beamed out once the project begins in the late hours of June 17. Beyond that, you can pay $1.00 for four messages, or for one message and a photo. It would probably be wise not to send a threatening message with a picture of you dressed up as Han Solo blasting holes through aliens. I already feel queasy thinking about the amount of peace signs that will be used.
“We are absolutely part of the private sector in terms of space and what’s happening in space, and we are the kind of teenager alongside SpaceX and Virgin Galactic,” said Lone Signal CEO Jamie King. “We want to be part of the wider conversation and exploration into space. We do need to make a profit in order to sustain the operating costs in order to keep doing it.”
The personal messages will be sent out in a continuous feed on one frequency, while another vastly different frequency will be a “hailing message” full of facts about Earth, such as our position in the universe, the periodic table, and a binary code definition of the hydrogen atom. (NASA did the whole haiku thing already.) It will be the very first time continuous messaging will be used in order to attract E.T.s.
Once you sign up, you’ll be able to keep track of where your message beam is at, and who else has sent messages, and then share it all with everyone else, utilizing social media to sustain interest. You can even dedicate a beam to a loved one, for some reason. “Mom, I sent Blue Oyster Cult lyrics to the Moon in your name. You can thank me with dinner.”
Assuming we’re not already carrying alien messages within us, this is a good way to possibly immortalize yourself without doing something that will get you arrested. So be careful what kind of picture you try and beam up, Scotty.