27 August 2009

It’s a wrap for Hello From Earth

Cosmos Online
25,880 messages were collected by the project from places as far flung as the Vatican City, Afghanistan and Antarctica. NASA beamed them towards Gliese 581d at noon today.
Gliese 581d

Gliese 581d is the outlying planet in the Gliese 581 system, and orbits its parent star every 66.8 days. It may be covered by a large and deep ocean and is the first serious 'waterworld' candidate discovered beyond our Solar System. Credit: ESO

“Stage fright! What do you say in an intergalactic message? Hello? Peace? What’s the weather like? Know that we’re here, we’re waiting. Hear from you soon. Ally =]”

With these words Alexandra Lynch, a Brisbane schoolgirl, became the last person to contribute a goodwill message to the Hello From Earth website. At midday today, the messages were transmitted 20.3 light-years to the nearest Earth-like planet outside our Solar System, Gliese 581d.

A total of 25,880 messages were collected by the website, a COSMOS initiative to celebrate Australia’s National Science Week and the International Year of Astronomy.

Done with the support of NASA, the CSIRO, and the Australia’s Science Minister Kim Carr, it was a way of making people aware of our annual celebration of science, now in its 12th year, and get them thinking about the value and importance of science generally, and astronomy in particular.

And what an extraordinary success it has been: we had messages from Afghanistan to Alaska, from Morocco to Macau – in fact, from all 195 nations and even non-nations like Antarctica and Vatican City (not the Pope as far as we know).

More than 1,000 newspapers, in scores of languages, reported the initiative and than 9,917 blogs around the world discussed it and linked to the site; there were thousands of tweets in French, Russian, Indonesian and any other language you can image.

Visitors to the site reached 254,620 in the 13 days the site collected messages, and visitors read 1.25 million pages; from the various messages left by participants to articles on exoplanets and astrobiology.

Some of the messages included:

Yidumduma Bill Harney, an Aboriginal astronomer of the Wardaman people: “Yidigunmardin nuruku yajingewa wuremulu jandange. Our dream, we’re telling to them young kids. We’re talking all this dream for the future.”

Patty, Melbourne: “What I’ve learnt: believe in yourself, believe in others, keep confidences, that family matters, you get what you give, dare to dream and don’t forget to laugh.”

Fred Mason, Roberts Creek: “Hi there: Sorry about The Outer Limits; hope you enjoyed I Love Lucy. Have you got all our missing socks? Love, Earth.”

Class4M, Castle Cove Public School, Australia:We come in peace. If you are out there, please respond. We want to be friends. We are all different and we can’t wait to meet you! From the children of Earth.

On Friday 28 August 2009, at midday, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla transmited the messages, encoded into binary. They were sent at a frequency of 7.145 gigahertz and a power of 18 kilowatts, in the direction of Gliese 581d, an exoplanet only recently discovered to be in its star’s habitable zone.

Gain from the antenna transmission source will increase this greatly: the signal is equivalent to using the combined transmission power of 300 billion mobile phones. NASA engineers will aim at azimuth 87 degrees at an elevation of 17 degrees at the start of transmission – the location of Gliese 581 will be when the message arrives around December 2029 – and the signal will be repeated twice over two hours.

Will we get a response? It’s unlikely – while a modern review of the Drake Equation suggests the number of detectable civilisations may be 200 in our galaxy alone, the universe is so vast that it is unlikely this particular star system is inhabited – much less harbours intelligent life with advanced technology.

But it’s been an interesting exercise in seeing just what people would say to extraterrestrials, given the chance.


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