Beaming location of Earth to alien life comes with risks, says scientist

‘Beacon in the Galaxy’ would be sent to possible extraterrestrial intelligences within the Milky Way

Tom Batchelor
Monday 18 April 2022 13:53
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The risks associated with a new proposal to beam Earth’s position and details about humans to possible alien life should be taken “seriously”, a scientist has warned.

A Nasa-led team has unveiled plans to transmit the “Beacon in the Galaxy” to extraterrestrial intelligence within the Milky Way galaxy.

The message, sent as a beamed radio wave, could include basic mathematical and physical concepts to “establish a universal means of communication”, as well as information detailing the biochemical composition of life on Earth, the team said.

It could also include the Solar System's time-stamped position in the Milky Way and “digitised depictions of the Solar System and Earth's surface”, in addition to digitised images of the human form and even great cultural works of art or images of nature such as mountains and lakes.

An invitation for any receiving intelligence to respond to the message would be added to the beacon, which would follow the Arecibo radio telescope which first transmitted a message in 1974, becoming a template for future attempts at contact with alien life.

The decision to send unsolicited messages into the cosmos has been a fiercely debated subject for decades.

The message could include the Solar System’s time-stamped position in the Milky Way

Anders Sandberg, a senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), who specialises in low-probability high-impact risks, said the chances of the message reaching alien life were slim but that regardless, it would have “such a high impact that you actually need to take it rather seriously”.

He told The Daily Telegraph: “Many people just refuse to take anything related to it seriously. Which is a shame, because this is important stuff.”

Dr Sandberg concluded that any extraterrestrial life may reply with the equivalent of a “‘Wish you were here” postcard, rather than anything more substantial, adding that the “poor aliens might already be getting various messages sent for all sorts of reasons”.

The Beacon in the Galaxy proposal, led by Jonathan H Jiang, a supervisor and principal scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, would see a message sent from both China’s Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical radio Telescope and the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array in northern California.

The transmission would be intended to reach a “selected region of the Milky Way which has been proposed as the most likely for life to have developed”, the researchers said.

The team added: “These powerful new beacons, the successors to the Arecibo radio telescope which transmitted the 1974 message upon which this expanded communication is in part based, can carry forward Arecibo's legacy into the 21st century with this equally well-constructed communication from Earth's technological civilisation.”

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