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Freelancing an Interstellar Message

The problem in sending intentional signals to the stars isn’t technology. It’s our lack of consensus. Having widespread buy-in on whether, why and how to add an ‘active’ component to SETI is deeply polarizing, at least on the surface. But dig deeper: While there are those who think we should send signals about ourselves to other stars, the opposition doesn’t necessarily disagree provided appropriate discussion and consultation be achieved first.

I’m with the latter camp and always have been. To me, this is as sensible as coming up with an environmental impact statement and debating it. We need to be thinking about the issues involved here because as technologies get more powerful, individual actors will be able to send messages that would formerly have been in the province of governments.

As I mentioned last week, such issues are not new to science, as witness the debate over recombinant DNA research that eventually led to multidisciplinary agreement — for more on this, see Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA — (and see David Brin’s SETI, METI and the Paradox of Extraterrestrial Life for more). The point is, thorny questions involving research and the limits on action need to be resolved through wide-ranging discussion.


Image: Looking toward the center of the galaxy (itself obscured by dust) from the Chilean Andes. Credit and copyright: Serge Brunier.

These reflections were triggered by re-reading Michael Chorost’s essay How a Couple of Guys Built the Most Ambitious Alien Outreach Project Ever. The topic is the Cosmic Call messaging project that sent two signals, in 1999 and 2003, from the Evpatoria dish in the Ukraine. What’s interesting here is that Cosmic Call didn’t come out of a space agency or a government decision. It came out of a series of interactions between private players.

Chorost is a canny writer, the author of the deeply insightful World Wide Mind (Free Press, 2011) and an active commentator on technology. He followed the Cosmic Call story to its origins in Team Encounter, a Texas-based firm intent on launching a true interstellar solar sail — i.e., a sail dedicated to making a 100,000 year crossing to Alpha Centauri while bearing messages, photographs and even DNA samples from supporters. The sail morphed into a message which would involve drawings, texts and songs from the people of Earth.

This is where Yvan Dutil, a Canadian astrophysicist, came into the picture, contacting Team Encounter with his own ideas about how to put together a message. Dutil teamed up with the late physicist Stéphane Dumas, who began to ponder message ideas based on the work of Hans Freudenthal, who had studied symbolic media of communication. Remember, we have nothing in common with the species we are hoping to contact — we assume a basic sense of logic which Dutil and Dumas explored in the form of a message primer.

I won’t get into the details of the primer itself, sending you to the Chorost essay, but it’s worth noting that Douglas Vakoch (formerly of the SETI Institute, and now a METI advocate and president of METI International) saw in the Dutil/Dumas primer “…a complexity and depth that’s unparalleled in interstellar messages.” Of which there haven’t been many, but you see the point. This two man team had come up with a symbolic system that would allow, so they believed, an alien civilization to receive information, ask questions and respond.

In one way or another (and memories differ on exactly what happened), Dutil and Dumas became aware of the Evpatoria dish in the Ukraine, which led them to Alexander Zaitsev, an astronomer at the Russian Academy of Science whose work with the Evpatoria dish had largely involved planets and near-Earth asteroids. Already passionate about SETI, Zaitsev agreed to a proposal to oversee sending the Cosmic Call messages from the Ukraine.

Chorost likes to call this a ‘crowdsourced’ effort growing out of the dedication of the two scientists who had conceived the message and energized by their dealings with the Cosmic Call group. The effort would grow into a message sent to four stars in 1999 and then five more in 2003, using a transmitter powerful enough to be detectable as far as 70 light years out. But METI was controversial from the beginning, as Chorost relates:

…the National Space Agency of Ukraine, as it was called at the time, was alarmed enough to stop the transmission in 1999 after the message had been sent to the first star on the target list. According to Zaitsev, the agency was rattled by the attention the message was getting from the press. “Such energetic reaction of Western mass media also was an alarming news for Kiev’s officers,” he says. In addition, they had been told that the transmissions were “very dangerous for terrestrials and that USA’s deep space stations refused to make Cosmic Call transmission.” They pulled the plug. Zaitsev rushed to Kiev to reassure the brass, and the transmissions resumed on June 30, 1999.

The point that emerges is that this SETI project, conceived and funded by private organizations, wound up costing something on the order of $100,000, much of it from small donations. Although perhaps 20 people were involved in getting the message sent, the message itself was the work of two people. We can only assume that the costs involved are going to continue dropping, which means that other messages like this one surely lie ahead.

That gets me back to the original issue. The scientific process is all about a common forum of ideas, discussions of peer-reviewed papers, conference proceedings and meetings between experts in the field, with public debate affecting subsequent policy on matters of global import. With METI we are beginning to see significant decisions being taken by individuals without consensus among researchers and without the time for serious public reflection.

Can we find any agreement between the two camps on METI? Douglas Vakoch, a strong defender of METI, asks in a recent letter in Nature Physics whether there are ways of submitting transmission proposals to the scientific process. Let me quote him on this:

Scientists already have a process for judging the merit of METI projects: peer review. Decisions about allocating time for METI at publicly funded observatories should rely on the same procedure used for competing experiments. If proponents can make a convincing case, when compared with other proposals, for effectively using a transmitter for a specific METI experiment, then time should be granted.

There may well be a place for METI in our future, but we need to define and choose it. My own belief is that this needs to go beyond a small peer-review group for a specific project and extend to the entire idea of METI. How this could be done in the era of a global Internet is something that should spur the imaginations of everyone from social scientists to network programmers. However we formalize and codify the discussion, though, technological change forces the issue, making the question of who speaks for Earth more timely than ever.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Thomas Goodey November 28, 2016, 13:12

    I have always thought that there might well be an eccentric individual, or perhaps even more than one, who has already been sending messages to space for years via his own system, somewhere in the outback of somewhere. I’d do it if I had the money, the location, and the time…

  • DJ Kaplan November 28, 2016, 14:02

    Should we tell them about corbomite?

  • Chris November 28, 2016, 14:12

    This issue is becoming more pressing with the rapid development and dissemination of high powered laser technology being planned for the Breakthrough projects. Not only will many different groups be able to send messages with the potential to reach other stars but those groups, being both within and outside of the scientific community, disagree on what those messages should be.

    Humanity will most likely not speak to the stars with a single voice.

  • Michael November 28, 2016, 17:13

    My personal position on this subject is that it would be wiser to listen and then judge than to speak out loud and then be judged. I don’t fancy been a sideshow in a cosmic zoo, I mean look at what we do to some of the most intellengent animals on earth!

  • Mike Jude November 28, 2016, 17:27

    The problem, though, is that, as you point out, the technology is getting cheaper all the time. And given different modalities for communication…say, lasers…it is well within the capabilities of an interested civilian to not only send a message, but do so in a way that is undetectable by governments or the scientific community. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if someone isn’t working on such a project already. So, I think the question is no longer “will messages be sent,” but what will we do about it if we receive a response…especially if we have no idea what the message was that’s being responded to?

    Now I need to get back to my garage…there’s a little project that need’s my attention. :-)

  • Astronist November 28, 2016, 17:33

    “The problem in sending intentional signals to the stars isn’t technology. It’s our lack of consensus.” – I disagree. The problem is that no possible recipient has yet been identified, and the probability of a message sent essentially at random ever being intercepted by an industrial species is demonstrably less than a million to one.

    “Can we find any agreement between the two camps on METI?” – we can indeed. Both camps believe fervently that industrialised aliens do exist in our galactic neighbourhood, despite no evidence for this ever having been produced.

    Oxford, UK

    • Eniac November 28, 2016, 23:55

      Well said!

    • Ron S November 29, 2016, 10:56

      “…despite no evidence…”

      Your basic statement may be true but this clause is problematic. If one has a hypothesis that requires data to be evaluated you would naturally want to conduct an experiment to generate that data, whether to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis. If you confirm their existence SETI will become established as a viable experimental technique while METI becomes a concrete topic of earnest debate. But until we have data, and even a sensible Bayesian prior, it’s all just so much hand waving. Thus SETI seems pointless to some (hope) and METI dangerous to others (fear). There is no resolution without data.

      • Harold Shaw November 30, 2016, 12:11

        Yes, but…..

        As an experiment to test the existence of ETIs, METI has a serious flaw; failure to respond to a message is indistinguishable from failure to find a recipient.

        • Ron S November 30, 2016, 16:05

          I didn’t claim that it would be easy! Hence the “…despite no evidence…” conjectures. Or, if you like, wild guesses and projections of personal desires by many.

    • Harold Shaw November 30, 2016, 12:09

      I would consider our existence as evidence that our galaxy and our region of the galaxy can produce industrial civilizations. Any theory that explains our existence becomes more complex if we ask it to assume we are alone. Within the context of Occam’s Razor, SETI is rational.
      At our current level of technology, we can only rule out ETI’s with personalities I would describe as caricatures.

      • Alex Tolley November 30, 2016, 13:38

        But even applying that Copernican Principle, that doesn’t mean that other civilizations exist at the same time we do. Depending on the values one plugs into the Drake equation, you can get a range of current civilizations in te galaxy that drops to 1 – us.

      • Astronist November 30, 2016, 20:45

        Harold Shaw, hi. I disagree with you re Occam’s Razor. Our existence is indeed evidence that industrial civilisations are possible, but supplies no clue as to the *rate* at which they occur. Several scenarios are possible in which we are the first to appear, given that the Universe is of finite age. My statements on this subject rest heavily on Paul Davies, “The Eerie Silence”, published in 2010.

        • Harold Shaw December 1, 2016, 9:28

          I read your first post as being dismissive of the notion that SETI was worth it. If your comment was only directed at METI, then I agree with you. METI is not a great experiment.

      • Eniac November 30, 2016, 23:45

        Any theory that explains our existence becomes more complex if we ask it to assume we are alone.

        I disagree. Any theory that treats our existence as a chance occurrence need only have the probability set sufficiently low to ensure we are alone. That is not an increase in complexity.

        Also: What Alex and Astronist say.

        • Harold Shaw December 1, 2016, 12:22

          I disagree. I think you can only make this case if the theory doesn’t have functioning parts, ie just an assumption without explanation. If our sun were the only star hosting a planetary system, we would need a more complex theory to explain star systems and the birth of stars. Why doesn’t a low probability need to be explained and how doesn’t that explanation require a model with more parts.

          • Eniac December 2, 2016, 0:21

            I do not follow you. Why would a low probability need any more explanation than a high probability? The exact same theory can yield both “many aliens” (probability of life arising very high) and “we are alone” (probability of life arising very low).

            For what it’s worth, currently we cannot at all explain how life can arise spontaneously, so the low probability seems more plausible.

  • Daniel Suggs November 28, 2016, 17:56

    Personally, I think we need to keep quiet and stay under the radar. Suppose there is a galaxy wide, ruling civilization which has held power for millions of years. By now they have figured out that the best way to keep upstart technological civilizations from challenging their rule, is to destroy them before they become a threat. It would be much easier and less dangerous for them, if they just sterilized our planet, before we spread. So they listen for any sign of a possible threat, radio signal, laser, warp signature, then send in the robot troops to exterminate.
    Not very likely, but it can’t be ruled out either. Do we gamble our planet on it? Maybe we should wait as long as we can put it off, at least until we are multi-planet.

  • ljk November 28, 2016, 18:18

    China has the largest single dish radio telescope on Earth named FAST. They have already officially stated interest in being the first nation to detect ETI. If they also want to conduct METI with FAST, who is going to stop them?


  • Neil S November 28, 2016, 19:05

    If earth is known to be in process of becoming Venus-like then any port in a storm. If nothing that dire is known to be happening then I’m opposed to us waving our arms and yelling “We’re here!” because the downside is ending the human race. We’d be fools to think we know how an alien race would think. And they would not have to be able to come here in order to destroy us.

  • john walker November 28, 2016, 19:28

    Analogous to the self-enabled METI fans I haven’t thought this subject through but that’s not preventing me from typing my opinion.
    The naive optimism implicit in the METI endeavour on the benefits and benevolence side is breath taking. Call me short-sighted a pessimist or a coward, I am of the opinion that there should be a formal international moratorium on such transmissions. At least until, as Michael has stated, we have sustantive information about an existing civilization and have arrived at a considered “consensus” as to how to react. All state actors must sign up. However, as for individual violators… yes, well, what to do? Threaten prison terms. Sure. Will that help? I am doubtful.

  • DJ Kaplan November 28, 2016, 19:33

    Indeed, my concern is not so much political as scientific. Speaking of the Cosmic Call transmissions, their “nearby” targets range around 50 lightyears away. How much signal strength will remain on arrival? Any ETC capable of teasing that signal out from the noise, not only already knows about us, but has probably visited us once or twice.

    • miki November 29, 2016, 7:58

      They have to own at least SKA radar system to be able to get signal from Earth.

      No one can travel between such distant stars. Two not so distant binaries maybe but not a Sun-like systems. Stop watching Hollywood movies.

  • hiro November 28, 2016, 21:02

    In about 10 years, one could ask either Siri or Watson to cook up some good story for crowdfunding and do all the hard work. If those programs manage to trick a big fraction of people on the Ashley Madison website, they can do METI.

  • Dmitry Novoseltsev November 28, 2016, 23:24

    “Team Encounter, a Texas-based firm intent on launching a true interstellar solar sail”

    Paul, can you give contact information for this company (Team Encounter)? Their projects are very in tune with the themes that I find interesting (some of the links I gave earlier).
    Their old website http://www.TeamEncounter.com (http://spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=7824) is currently unavailable.
    I am now carefully thinking about the one that is absolutely heretical, but logistically feasible option in the very distant future. Then share it. He is associated with solar sails. I think we would have found much in common with them the fact.

    • Paul Gilster November 29, 2016, 9:48

      Dmitry, to the best of my knowledge, Team Encounter is completely defunct. But let me dig around and see what its founders are now involved in. I’ll drop you a note.

  • Roger November 29, 2016, 1:01

    Very good and thought provoking topic… but like all other instances where certain rarified technology becomes slowly democratized and made readily available to the lowest common denominator, there will be no stopping its use. Or the random broadcasting of messages – both positive and crazy – out into the galaxy without review and in many cases without much fore-thought.

    The genie is out of the bottle on this one…

  • Antonio November 29, 2016, 5:24

    If global consensus is needed, then we never will do METI. C’mon, they have been discussing half a century now! If another private initiative tries to do METI, they can certainly take my money!

  • miki November 29, 2016, 7:52

    We are spreading powerful early-warning radar signals more than a half century and bragging about messaging stars. Please stop.

    • ljk November 29, 2016, 11:04

      How do you propose we do this? Making everyone on Earth stop transmitting into the Milky Way galaxy and denying them the technological ability to do so as well. Did you see my note above about China and their giant FAST radio telescope?

  • djlactin November 29, 2016, 8:35

    OT but you might have to change the name of this site:
    (Somehow ‘Kentaurus dreams’ has a kind of occult feel…)

    • Paul Gilster November 29, 2016, 9:45

      Yes, an entirely different vibe! I think I’ll stick with the old one.

  • Keith November 29, 2016, 8:44

    I believe that it’s teeming with intelligent life out there. I’ve always been a proponent of initiating contact – until recently that is. I’ve recently read the Three Body Problem series of 3 books by Liu Cixin. In the second book, entitled aptly enough, “The Dark Forest”, he expounds on his Dark Forest theory. I found it very believable. I am now firmly against betraying our existence at this stage of our development. Which is great shame as I always hoped I might still be around if/when contact is made. Having said that, as others have commented, there is no doubt that we will continue our search and we will continue to advertise our presence. As Cixin says, chances are, if we can see them, they will probably see us at some stage…

  • Keith November 29, 2016, 8:53

    To add to my last post – someone has kindly already transcripted some of the text:
    “[…] two axioms for cosmic civilization. First, survival is the primary need of civilization. Second, civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant. […] The universe is a black forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life – another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod – there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox. […] But in this dark forest, there’s a stupid child called humanity, who has built a bonfire and is standing beside it shouting, ‘Here I am! Here I am!’ “

    • Wojciech J November 29, 2016, 18:54

      I read this book too ;) But the comparison is flawed! Our biosphere is already a bonefire, and advanced civilizations would haven no problem detecting our planet in the millions of years of their existence.
      There is no point in hiding or signaling:our planet announces our existence for us.

      • Antonio December 1, 2016, 7:17

        There IS a point in signaling: it announces that we are interested in communicating/meeting with them. In the zoo hypothesis, they will not communicate until we try.

    • Mark Zambelli December 6, 2016, 10:35

      Keith… there is also something to be said for “safety in numbers”… especially in the particular ‘forest’ you are paraphrasing.

  • ljk November 29, 2016, 10:53

    Just like in the movies, our military is woefully unprepared for an alien invasion:


    We better hope our terrestrial germs can save us.

    To quote from the article:

    “Shostak says to his best knowledge, the US military has no plan in case of an alien invasion. However, he admits the lack of preparedness is also due to false alarms raised by SETI, a California-based institute whose mission is to explore, understand and explain he origin and nature of life in the universe.”

    First off, SETI is not some monolithic organization: There are many SETI groups all around the world.

    Even if our military were prepared for an alien invasion, to be so would require a much larger defense/offense infrastructure than exists now, which would include being able to deflect space rocks aimed our way. Or they could just take one starship and slam it into Earth at relativistic speeds. The kinetic energy alone would sterilize virtually all of our planet’s surface in one blow. Then again, perhaps all they would have to do is create a virus that would be fatal to humans only and just wait for us to die off, leaving the countryside intact.

    In any event, you know the military is not only not ready but would not take such a concept seriously. I won’t even touch on where our current government is at in regards to this situation. I would say it is likely the same across the board on a global scale.

    An advanced species that wants Earth for itself or just have us out of the
    picture so that humans do not become galactic scale competition down the road could take us out if it wants to with relative ease, that is the bottom line. What is sadder, though, is that most people view ETI only either as hostile invaders or deity-style saviors. Our history has led us to think of few other possibilities. This can also apply to AI/Artilects.

    • Mark Zambelli December 6, 2016, 11:08

      Couldn’t agree more Larry. The possibility-space is huge yet we only ever mostly get fed the single concept of ‘invaders’. It’s not really Hollywood’s fault… these are themes we are most in tune with as it’s ingrained in our history and the masses can easily connect with the notion. The intelligent stories are finally filltering through and I hope we’ll see more ‘good-sf’ getting traction in the future… hopefully our 50’s-60’s B movies / ID4 / Oblivion / Day After Tomorrow phase is drawing to a close, making way for some ‘proper’ stuff (I like those films (guilty pleasure?) but people shouldn’t use them as a basis for their opinions, imho) like 2001, Contact, Interstellar, Arrival etc. Just my take.

  • Tom Mazanec November 29, 2016, 13:41

    After deciding to do it, the big challenge in METI, I think, is “anti-cryptography”…designing a message that can be understood by any species that might be at the target, even if that species is a “jellyfishoid” in an ocean of molten sulfur.

  • DJ Kaplan November 29, 2016, 13:44

    All in all, a very interesting proposition to consider. If some enterprising engineer manages to sneak out a signal, none of us may know about it. Until a reply arrives of course.

  • Michael Chorost November 29, 2016, 17:16

    Paul, thank you very much for directing attention to my story on the Cosmic Call.

    I briefly discuss the METI debate in the article, but I think the linguistic aspects of the Cosmic Call story are far more interesting. Dutil and Dumas tried to invent a communication system that could be understood by any sapient mind. Obviously, without testing it on an alien recipient, we can’t know if they succeeded or not. But they wrote a message that introduces simple concepts in the early pages (numerals, operators…) and builds on them to present much more complicated subjects like the makeup of Earth’s atmosphere and the colors that human eyes can see. And to my mind, their invention of symbols that mean “question” and “you” was just plain brilliant. (See pages 4, 21, and 23 of the message, link below.) Their message didn’t just offer information, it also asked questions and provided a symbology that could be used to answer them. The sheer ingenuity of their work really has not been properly recognized.


    So I would like to invite readers to think about the fundamental issues of language and communication that are raised by the Cosmic Call. Are human logic and human ways of representing information universally understandable? If not, why not? Are there other concepts that Dutil and Dumas could have introduced? (I think the answer is yes; they should have created symbols for the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT, for one thing.) Could they have talked about human emotions and motivations? (I’m not sure.) Could they have asked questions about religion? (Maybe; Richard Braastad, in his master’s thesis, speculated on how one would define “God” in the Dutil-Dumas symbology.)

    To me these are much more interesting questions than what is, at the moment, an almost totally factless and contentless debate over METI. It’s also almost pointless, because as others have noted, Earth is already bright in a number of radio frequencies, the atmosphere is loaded with biosignatures and technosignatures, and any individual message like the Cosmic Call has essentially zero chance of being received. As I noted in the story, the recipients at the nine stars they targeted would have to (a) exist, (b) have the technology to listen, and (c) be listening *during the four hour period* that the Cosmic Call sweeps past them. Anyone who is seriously worried about the Cosmic Call simply doesn’t understand how big time and space really are.

    So I invite readers to look more closely at the message itself and ponder the deep issues it raises about cognition and communication.

    • ljk November 30, 2016, 11:50

      Michael Chorost said on November 29, 2016 at 17:16:

      “Anyone who is seriously worried about the Cosmic Call simply doesn’t understand how big time and space really are.”

      Exactly, thank you.

      • ljk November 30, 2016, 12:03

        “Richard Braastad, in his master’s thesis, speculated on how one would define “God” in the Dutil-Dumas symbology.”

        I found his thesis online here, in full and freely available:


    • Antonio December 1, 2016, 7:27

      I’m curious… has the message being tried with human subjects knowing nothing about it? I mean, is there any trial to investigate wether someone that didn’t read the Dumas paper can read the message?

      • Michael Chorost December 1, 2016, 10:21

        I’m not aware of such a test having been done, but a family friend of ours has a thirteen-year old teenager, who was fascinated by the message and started trying to figure it out. She had figured out most of page 1, and with only a little bit of prompting from me she was able to figure out the first seven pages. After that she had to give up because she didn’t have the physics.

    • Alexander Zaitsev December 11, 2016, 15:03

      As you know, we have transmitted four Messages to ETIs (METI) from Evpatoria: Cosmic Call 1999, Teen-Age Message 2001 (TAM), Cosmic Call 2003, and A Message From Earth 2008 (AMFE), but you have described only Cosmic Calls. It’s a pity. I think, each of this METI projects represent self-sufficient interest.

      For example, TAM was composed in Russia and is the first both analog and digital message with musical section. AMFE was composed in England and is the the first message which was created by a multiplicity of users via social networking (Bebo). So, those two METI projects are waiting for their chroniclers.

      • Paul Gilster December 11, 2016, 17:51

        What a pleasure to see you here again, Sasha! Very best wishes of the season to you and your family.

  • Joe November 29, 2016, 17:17

    So suppose some do-it-yourself METI enthusiast constructs a laser inside the barn the rural area where they live. They then proceed to program it to fire a coded message into space on a periodic basis, (maybe when the neighbors aren’t around.) Any guesses as to the practical range of such a device (assuming the hobbyist uses commercially available parts currently in existence.)

    • ljk November 30, 2016, 11:39

      Laser are invisible optically unless one happens to be firing it through dust or fog, so this hypothetical METI practitioner could fire it pretty much whenever they want and not be detected.

      As for power and range, here is one answer from this site:


      OK, so how intense are the expected laser signals? To answer this we rely on the example of our own infant laser technology. Pulsed laser systems exist that, in combination with a large transmitting/collimating telescope, can outshine our star by several orders of magnitude over very great interstellar distances. I’m fudging on the numbers here because if one gets specific, then the many other factors of that specificity need to be included as well and that gets too involved for the purposes here.

      Wow, that means if other planets are directing their lasers at us, all we need do is look for stars that unexpectedly brighten! Not so fast. The amount of laser energy needed to be seen that casually is way, way too much. No, the laser signal would probably be in the form of brief pulses; really brief pulses, e.g. <1 to 50 nanoseconds. The reasons for this bracketing include: energy consumption, equipment cost, size, complexity and the signal-to-background ratio. I’m relying on our parochial views regarding the equipment thing, but physics pretty well defines the other arguments.

      So, we’re looking for brief pulses of light coming from the vicinity of other stars. Sure, but they’re still really bright, huh? Well, uh, it gets a little tricky. We detect light from stars as photons. A star that you can dimly see with the naked eye streams photons toward us at roughly 25 million photons per second per square meter. A laser signal may only be expected to have a few tens, hundreds or thousand photons per square meter, but these would occur in a few nanoseconds.

      Then there is this Princeton OSETI site:


      What power would a transmitting laser's beam need to be in order for us to detect it?

      Light coming from a star alone filtered to one part in 10,000 amounts to 4 Joules of energy every nanosecond. Therefore, a laser signal coming from near the star must exceed 4 Joules within a nanosecond in order for it to outshine the star. Modern lasers designed for nuclear fusion can exceed this power requirement by some 300,000 times (see the technical paper). Even if the exact frequency of transmission is unknown, such a laser would still outshine the sender's star by 30 times during the nanosecond pulse without any filtering.

      What is the maximum distance from which we could detect a signal?

      Establishing contact as far away as 100 light-years should present no problem. Using research grade equipment, detecting signals from distances up to 1000 light-years are feasible.

      And if you want lots of information from the man who did much to get Optical SETI back on the map in the 1990s, check out Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley's site:


      • Ron S November 30, 2016, 16:14

        “outshine the sender’s star by 30 times during the nanosecond pulse without any filtering”

        A major problem is the receiver’s exposure time, which would have to be of the same order as the pulse width multiplied by the ratio of flux between the signal and start, not to mention the other filtering you allude to. And you’d have to cycle continuously to avoid missing a pulse. Such short “exposures” are going to be below detector sensitivity for all but the brightest sources. All photon collectors are, by their nature, integrating devices.

    • ljk November 30, 2016, 12:26

      This venerable article also describes the various Optical SETI scenarios along with many other types of SETI:


  • Charley November 29, 2016, 17:48

    We better get our story straight, if we want them to be able to know where we are at and where we are sending our signals from:

    “Alpha Centauri Gets a New Moniker as 227 Star Names Are Clarified”

    “Alpha Centauri” is getting the boot. The longstanding star name has been displaced by its ancient counterpart in a new International Astronomical Union (IAU) catalog that designates 227 official names for different stars in the sky.

    The move was intended to reduce confusion, according to the IAU. For instance, a star like Fomalhaut has at least 30 different names, so it’s difficult to figure out what to call it — or even how to spell it. Variations over the years have included Fumalhaut, Fomalhut and even the unusual Fomal’gaut.

    The IAU, which is the official arbiter of astronomical names, chose single names to refer to those stars that have historically had many. Some of the decisions may rattle longtime observers, however. For example, the binary star Alpha Centauri, which lies 4.35 light-years from the sun, is now known officially as “Rigil Kentaurus,” the ancient name for the system. [What Do We Know About Alpha Centauri?]

    Neighboring Proxima Centauri — the closest star to the sun, at just 4.22 light-years away — will keep its name, which will make it easier to keep track of the nearest exoplanet to Earth (which is currently known by the name Proxima b.)

    In many cases, the names are the same as before; for instance, while Vega is reported to have dozens of different names, “Vega” will stand as the official name, echoing the decisions of star catalogs in the Western Hemisphere for centuries. Official alphanumeric designations for stars, which are used by professional astronomers, will remain the same.

    “Since the IAU is already adopting names for exoplanets and their host stars, it has been seen as necessary to catalogue the names for stars in common use from the past, and to clarify which ones will be official from now on,” Eric Mamajek, chair and organizer of the working group, said in a statement.

    The decision comes after the IAU’s working group on star names began combing the literature in May 2016 to determine which star names would be officially approved. The group favored one-word names as well as those names that had histories in astronomy, culture or the natural world. (Many star names, the IAU noted, have not changed much since the Renaissance and come from Greek, Latin and Arabic roots.)

    “The group aims to decide which traditional star names from cultures around the world are the official ones, in order to avoid confusion,” the IAU said in the statement. “Some of the most common names for the brightest and most famous stars in the sky had no official spelling, some stars had several names, and identical names were sometimes used for completely different stars altogether.”

    The full list of the 227 stars is available on the IAU’s website. This catalog includes 18 star names that were approved in December 2015, 14 of them proposed and voted on by the public for the NameExoWorlds contest. The approved stellar names will not be available for asteroids, planetary satellites or exoplanets “so as to further reduce confusion,” the IAU said of the listing

  • ljk November 29, 2016, 17:57

    One of my favorite METI efforts of all time:


    Of course we may need a microscope to read any alien messages, rather than a telescope:


  • Wojciech J November 29, 2016, 18:52

    A question to the opponents of METI,
    As it is plausible that an alien civilization would be millions of years ahead and would have a lot of time to survey universe, and that even telescopes we are capable of envisioning now will be capable of detecting life, even taking images of alien planets.
    Wouldn’t it be pointless both opposing and supporting METI? Said civilizations would already be aware of our existence as signals are sent out continuously by our Earth and its biosphere. If their existence is millions of years apart from ours, then they would have identified and cataloged any life bearing planets and potential civilizations.
    How would you respond to this?

    • Matt M November 30, 2016, 9:40

      That the mentioned civilization might not even exist?

      Don’t get me wrong, I love scifi and space opera but personally, I think sending messages, invitations, declarations etc. is pointless, dangerous and even bordering on lunacy. We (humans) can’t communicate efficiently with ourselves, yet some imagine it would be possible with some unknown extraterrestrial species (if it exists)? There is a lot of wishful thinking… Especially when there’s no FTL communication available.

      • Alex Tolley November 30, 2016, 13:33

        And yet we are attempting to decipher the communications of animals, especially whales and dolphins.

        • Matt M December 1, 2016, 9:37

          “Attempting” is a good word. At least they’re still here, on Earth.

    • Harold Shaw November 30, 2016, 12:02

      The catalog you describe could be compiled within thousands of years instead of millions. However long it does take to produce a detailed catalog of planets, that time frame is much shorter than the time frame for colonizing the galaxy and well within the time frame of galactic habitability.

      I am opposed to purposeful, disorganized, muliplayer METI because:
      1) As an experiment to confirm the existence of ETIs, METI has little to no value. Failure to respond to the message is indistinguishable from failure to find a recipient.
      2) METI could alter the course of a less advanced civilization. If the case can be made that ancient civilizations exist and if we take as read that we exist, then the case can be made that less advanced civilizations exist. We can assign probabilities for the existence of ETIs more or less advanced as ourselves, but those probabilities are educated guesses. Depending on the message and the personality of the ETI, that ETI could become as dangerous to us as an ancient civilization or be altered to a degree that it is less valuable as a source of information.

      • Antonio December 1, 2016, 7:41

        1) Wrong. Of course it has value as an experiment. If they reply, we know they exist! And, if they are only willing to message us if we previously show our willingness to communicate too, then doing SETI alone has no value, it must be complemented by METI.

        2) Refusing to do METI can also alter the course of a civilization. Doing nothing is also a course of action. So that point proves nothing.

        • Harold Shaw December 1, 2016, 12:39

          At best METI will produce positive results with only a limited population of hypothetical ETI personalities. A message targeted at a system can not confirm whether or not that system hosts an ETI. Forgive me being pedantic.

          I don’t understand how refusing to do METI could alter the course of another civilization.

          We are doing METI so doing nothing isn’t even an available course of action and I agree with you that communication requires at least two willing participants. I think passive METI would the best way to signal our willingness. The Earth’s current METI signature could be organized in such a way that it self selects for ETIs of a certain tech level and contains a message indicating our willingness to communicate and our disposition.

          • Antonio December 1, 2016, 13:39

            “At best METI will produce positive results”

            Those are by far the most interesting results.

            “A message targeted at a system can not confirm whether or not that system hosts an ETI”

            It can confirm that the system hosts an ETI. It can’t confirm that the system doesn’t host an ETI. Anyway, the same applies to SETI alone. The difference is that, if you do METI too, there are more possible scenarios where you can obtain a positive result.

            “I don’t understand how refusing to do METI could alter the course of another civilization.”

            By losing opportunities to develop in new directions. For example, a contact would do wonders to transforming us in a space-faring civilization (which we currently aren’t and it doesn’t seem we will become one any time soon–indeed we are idling in LEO half a century after we last went the Moon, with no serious plan to go beyond any time soon). Think also how it will transform society, culture, etc. For example, what if we find a Star Trek-like civilization that doesn’t use money and doesn’t work for money or whatever similar to money? What if we find a civilization whith no trace of religion whatsoever? What if we find aliens that don’t age not get sick and are in any practical sense immortal? What if we find artilects vastly more intelligent than us? Will we develop AI or ban it?

            Passive METI has the same problem. If what ETI see is only radio noise, biosignatures and the like, they can think we aren’t interested in communication and leave us alone.

    • Securis December 1, 2016, 18:06

      Assuming there is an alien civilization that is already aware of our existence they are either studying us or ignoring us (or trying to communicate with us in ways we can’t detect/understand). Taking action and shining a light on them will most likely prompt a reaction. What kind of reaction? Nobody knows. That’s reason enough for me to just keep listening and looking.

  • Andrew Palfreyman November 29, 2016, 18:56

    The longer we wait, the better our survival chances. It seems most prudent of all to wait. Of course, if other ETs are reasoning in the same fashion, the wait may be very long indeed.

    • J. Jason Wentworth November 30, 2016, 11:14

      “A galaxy full of patient listeners and no talkers,” as Arthur C. Clarke sadly mused…

    • ljk November 30, 2016, 12:50

      Then you and others may just love WETI:



      Sketchy UFO reports aside, aliens are probably not going to be showing up on Earth’s doorstep any time soon, at least certainly not in large numbers. Waiting for things to happen is not how we learn about the Universe or progress ourselves. Plus if there are potentially harmful ETI, and since we already know they can detect Earth life if they want to, I would rather at least have a chance to find them first so we could have some chance of forming a plan of action.

      • J. Jason Wentworth December 1, 2016, 6:28

        Depending on the phenomena in question, waiting (with preparations to make observations occurring during the waiting) is often precisely what is done in science, due to the nature of the phenomena.

        While WETI is at most only a semi-serious proposal (although if one were immortal like a unicorn, the odds of meeting ETI by waiting would be much higher), observing many things in nature requires waiting, sometimes for a mortal lifetime. For example:

        In astronomy, observing phenomena such as lunar eclipses and solar eclipses, the Saros Cycle of the Moon’s orbit, TLP (Transient Lunar Phenomena), Martian dust storms, planetary transits, planetary oppositions, occultations of stars by asteroids, planets, and the Moon, meteor showers, apparitions of comets (known and predictable ones as well as unexpected new, unknown comets), and exoplanet transits all require waiting–sometimes for decades or even longer (transits of Venus only occur every other century!)–before observations can be made.

        • ljk December 1, 2016, 10:26

          Yes but there is a big difference between waiting and being busy in the meantime to prepare for an upcoming event and just waiting while doing anything but preparing for the next round.

      • Antonio December 1, 2016, 7:49


  • ljk November 30, 2016, 15:39

    The National Geographic Channel/Society “celebrated” the 35th anniversary of the OSU Wow! Signal on August 15, 2012 by beaming a bunch of tweets into deep space with the Arecibo radio telescope:


    This was done as a “blatant self-promotion” for the 2012 premier of their new series Chasing UFOs. Yeah. And this was even before Rupert Murdoch took over National Geographic Magazine.

  • ljk November 30, 2016, 18:37

    What Happens if We Detect Extraterrestrial Intelligence?

    Finding communicative aliens is a long shot, but if we do, here are a few next steps to consider.

    by Julie Leibach on November 30, 2016

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    But say that, one day, researchers actually do find a signal—either from Boyajian’s star or from somewhere else—and that other scientists verify it as the product of something undisputedly extraterrestrial and intelligent. Then what?

    Let’s get one thing out of the way: The feds won’t try to cover it up. “The government has never shown any interest in any signals we’ve gotten. Even in 1997, when we had a signal that we thought might be real,” says Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

    Rather, if such a discovery is made, “it will be a very messy business,” he says. “It will be a very chaotic unveiling of this story, because there’s no policy of secrecy in the whole SETI enterprise, and that means that every time you get a signal that looks the least bit promising, the media are on it.”
    [Just ask HD164595 – https://centauri-dreams.org/?p=36248 ]


    But for others, “there may be a sense that our specialness is going to be challenged,” says Douglas Vakoch, president of METI International, which researches how to construct interstellar messages (METI stands for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence). “I think it would be easy to fall into a cosmic inferiority complex,” he says, particularly because, considering the brief timespan we earthlings have been communicative, the civilization we encounter is likely to be much more technologically advanced.

  • Jason W. Higley December 1, 2016, 16:39

    “There’s a sucker born every minute.”- often credited to P. T. Barnum
    Messages to Space for Profit (could this be the missing mass of the Universe? :^) CETI ASTRO-SPAM SCAMS = Profit and Vanity
    It is ridiculous to think that communications from Earth have been or could be controlled! Most “CETI” transmissions from Earth have either had a profit-motive behind them or been a publicity stunt, without substantial regulation from governmental authorities. Aside from the Arecibo
    Message in 1973 (reportedly by its creators a publicity event), around the turn of the millennium there were several high power narrow-beam microwave transmissions (with the help of scientists) known as
    The Cosmic Call, Cosmic Call 2 and the Teen Age Message, via the fairly strong transmitter at the 70 meter dish known as the BT 70 Radio-telescope Dish in Evpatoria, Ukraine. Cosmic Call 1 offered sending personal messages for $24.95 toward relatively nearby newly discovered exoplanets.
    Then there was The Starlite ($19.95 per message laser transmissions, although there were various packages reported to be between $9.95 to $44.95), Encounter 2001 (photos and messages on spacecraft for money) eventually teamed up with messagetospace.com (sending weak messages for $24.95, with packages up to $89.90); eventually this project teamed up with Cosmic Call messages which was to feature messages from some “90,000
    people, each of whom has paid at least $24.95 for the service…” (90,000 x $24.95 = $2,245,500!).
    By 2002 it was announced in a press release by Encounter 2001, LLC that they had won a contract from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide test data and technology demonstration of this first-ever solar sail spacecraft. That eventually morphed into another money-making project, KEO (see wikipedia) that so far as I know never got launched.

    And there was bentspace messaging service where Meta Enterprises Inc. offered in the early 2000’s folks the capacity via their bentspace.com “division” the opportunity for $10.95 to send a very, very weak
    message for free to space via a either of two C band microwave satellite dishes their text message of up to 1,000 words by typing or pasting into their internetbrowser-based online message form, above which you would include a subject line and then hit the send button. Bentspace Space Messaging Service would take your credit card number and personal information.
    Once the transaction was registered, you would receive a confirmation message with transaction reference number, date message sent, and the message. This number could be used by the customer in the future to find the online certificate of transmission so that it could be printed locally on your printer. Certificate’s had the customer’s name, subject line and date/time message was sent (but not the message.) Bentspace.com also offered for sale commemorative collectibles, bumper stickers, T-shirts
    and posters. According to Bentspace “There are many reasons to send your message into outer space: Because it’s fun; Because you have something you just have to get off your chest; To commemorate a birthday, anniversary, graduation, retirement or other special event; to memorialize a
    loved-one; To blab a secret; To share important information with distant civilizations; To do at least one thing in your life that will live on forever; For the T-shirt; To ask for advice; To take space exploration into your own hands.”

    Eventually they found sponsors from a search engine company called “Laughing Yak” and another company called “Promia” that permitted the messages to be sent to space for free. The message was “…digitized and amplified message (sent) straight up at a high frequency.” (not compensating for the Earth’s rotation.) “ Just like all e-mail, the message will not only
    contain the text typed by the user, but also whatever identifying information is contained in the user’s e-mail header. In addition, Bentspace includes in all messages a standard astronomical locator identical to what was included in the Voyager deep space probe. Should intelligent life receive the message, they would be able to identify the location of Earth and the origin of the message. Bentspace is only responsible for sending the messages, and not for any consequence as a result of the messages that are sent.”

    Bebo – It was reported by the BBC that in 2006 Evapatoria’s BT-70 dish was used yet again by a TV show on the bilingual Franco-German TV network
    known as ARTE (Association Relative à la Télévision Européenne) and a social networking website known as bebo.com, upon which they sent messages to the relatively nearby stars Gamma Cephei (a.k.a. Errai)
    and Gliese 581 (both also known to possess planets) in the form of a “Message from Earth” containing ~501 images and text messages (from bebo’s users.)
    One source citing the BBC claimed that bebo spent £20,000 British pounds (then around $40,000 U.S.) for the transmission. According to the source “Bebo spokesman Mark Charkin said, “A ‘Message From Earth’ presents an opportunity for the digital natives of today… to reconnect with science and the wider universe in a simple, fun and immersive way.””

    The text messages were submitted and selected by Bebo users and also included images of celebrities. It was reported that the images which were converted into a binary format. Although the messages were reported to have been originally intended for the planet Gliese 581c, a possibly even
    more hospitable planet for our kind of life may have been detected in that system. Gliese 581 is 20 light years away from Earth and the message is expected to reach the planet by early 2029. It has been reported in http://thefullwiki.org that “…The project was funded by advertisements, and the cost of $40,000 was borne by RDF Digital for the transmission which took four and a half hours.” Political statements have also been reported to have been sent within these messages, one such reported example being X-Files TV actress Gillian Anderson alleged to have sent an image of George
    W. Bush as “the personification of evil, juxtaposed against (an image of) Barack Obama as the embodiment of good.”

    One last dotcom example – deepspacecom.net And lastly with regard to sending messages to space as a business, awhile back one could send a 5 minute transmission via http://www.deepspacecom.net/Purchase.html for only $299.00! Your message can include “up to five digital pictures OR up to 2 minutes of audio and or video and a text message of up to 50 words.”
    Images have to be JPEG, and audio should be in .MP3 or .WAV formats. Videos should be in MPEG1, AVI or Windows Media Files, or you can send it in NTSC or PAL format; could E.T. figure out any of these formats?

    The company, Communications Concepts, Inc. (doing business under the fictitious name Deep Space Communications Network and properly registered in the State of Florida) is fortuitously located in Cape
    Canaveral (an area well known for NASA space launches, but is actually in a commercial business site, using a 5 meter TV satellite broadcast dish in the back parking lot with “…redundant high-powered klystron amplifiers connected by a traveling waveguide”.

    Even in the United States NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) did a transmission in 2008 related to musician Sir Paul McCartney (of Beatles fame) from a large dish at DSN toward Polaris (a.k.a. The North Star)
    that was synchronous with a new release of music recordings by the same artist and a Movie DVD (i.e. there was a publicity/profit motive; the song was Across the Universe.) Basically, the parties involved with the above transmissions do seem to be aware of the risks involved with these
    transmissions, but they appear to have a financial incentive to ignore those risks for short term financial gain, and some of them were scientists too.

    I’d be concerned with E.T.’s knowing that we eventually will have to leave the Earth, and will anticipate that we could eventually be moving into their dwell space. A big question (in my opinion) is: are some civilizations interested pre-empting our expansion into their dwell space? It seems improbable to me that 100% of civilizations will be so inviting or passive (although I could easily imagine the opposite based on our own Earthly examples.) If only some E.T.’s decided against our expansion, I seriously doubt that we would know they were coming, and I don’t think we’d even figure out that we were being exterminated, especially with a likely millions or even billions of years head start on technology; it will probably look to us like a natural event, like a gamma-ray-burst or pandemic. It’s not likely that a Type 0 civilization will be able to challenge or defend against a Type I or II civilization (see wikipedia “Kardashev scale”) given their head start in research, system/population expansion, and resource acquisition. Imagine fighting in space machines (or whatever the heck they end up with) that are 1 billion years in development! It would really be no contest, defense is not even conceivable, we’d have about as much ability to respond or protect ourselves as we would from a hyperbolic black hole or comet entering our solar system, or a nearby gamma-ray-burst or a solar super-storm.

    They could do us like we did the Dodo bird (and hundreds of other species in the last few centuries.) On Earth our human domain space invades other organisms spaces, and they often lose. Why wouldn’t this happen elsewhere in the Universe? It is biologically natural for species to compete when dwelling in the same spaces. Why does E.T. have to like us? Why would they want to communicate with us? (I’m a SETI proponent, but the question of what would motivate extraterrestrials to contact us using more time and energy than we’ve accomplished or plan to do in the foreseeable future is irksome to me.)

    I’m not saying “don’t communicate” (in fact we may have to), I’m saying let’s wait a long while (like 10,000 years) and gather intelligence, see if there’s such a thing as the Encyclopedia Galactica or exo-internet and if they
    welcome newbies in the mix, or are they transmitting warning beacons telling others (like us) to watch out, or keep out. We’ll only get one chance to observe silently. Once they’ve detected that we’re looking for them or expanding into their domain space, whole new series of uncontrollable chains of events may ensue.

    So again I posit, for publicity, commercial interests and vanity, we have sent messages to space. Are these the right motivations for communicating with E.T.’s? Should commercial interests who are interested in making money off of E.T. transmissions and don’t care about our future give away our location
    in the Universe?

    Perhaps there’s a sucker born every minute on billions of planets throughout the Universe? There could be almost infinite amounts of sucker transmissions traveling about, so shouldn’t we have detected the E.T. suckers by now? Indeed, could the invisible missing mass Universe (a.k.a. dark matter and dark energy) be the microwave-radio photons sent by Sucker Transmissions traveling between the stars? :^)

    “Active SETI” is a misnomer, and CETI at its best is irresponsible, grossly negligent and egoistic. What’s the rush to transmit? Wait awhile (like 10,000 years, a moment in the span of the Universe) before transmitting, as we’ve only just arrived on the scene (relative to the age of the Universe) and perhaps we should listen to what E.T.’s want us to know, if anything. Periodically in CETI there are transmissions to other star systems, usually with a profit-motive, either directly or because of the publicity it can garner. To me the most compelling argument for us to be “radio-silent” (regarding transmitting narrow-beam microwave transmissions that are brighter than the Sun in those microwave frequencies) is that we should evaluate (if possible) the overt/visible threat environment (i.e. try to ascertain obvious signs of whether ALL E.T.’s are friendly, or not), or why it is that they are not transmitting. Are our purposeful transmissions like a fly jiggling in a spider-web or bait on a hook? Are extra-terrestrial civilizations/species
    competitors in a Darwinian survival competition? Can they co-exist with others, or do they eradicate undesirable life forms as we’ve done with polio or small-pox viruses? Is their existence at odds with ours, like ours was at odds with other recently extinct species on Earth?

    Virtually all technological civilizations should have technological superiority. If we should encounter such species, they may dominate after the encounter. The superior science species may always dictate the outcome of such an encounter; the weaker species has no say in the matter (although it could be argued that some form of more survivable type of human might evolve out of such a contest, and be stealthier or have some better survival trait! My vote (if only I had one to give) is it’s probably better to lay low/stay camouflaged until our galactic census has been under way for awhile. I think that if we somehow are able to glean information from ET transmissions, that this info will only be transformative to human culture in a similar way that the Copernican Revolution or spinoffs from Einstein’s work effected culture (i.e. generally big in terms of effect or changed perspectives, but the general population (most people) still won’t know about or understand Einstein’s or Copernicus’ actual work.)

    It seems commonplace these days for people to compare our contacting E.T.’s with what happened when some Europeans interacted with native peoples in the Americas, Pacific Islands and Africa. This cultural invasion phenomenon however is not new, as throughout the entire written history of humanity cultures with new military and other technologies have conquered others to create vast empires. The Greeks, Romans and Persians are good examples of this, where after conquering a region, the cultural norms, moral, legal and religious practices of the invaders became hybridized with the local belief systems and practices. Although I’ve read several publicized opinions from prominent SETI scientists (and heard them first-hand too from Seth Shostak and others) who believe that “CETI” (i.e. active transmission) is O.K. because we are leaking transmissions to space all the time anyway; I believe they are wrong. I think a strong case could be made that there’s a substantial difference between leaking spread spectrum radar in random directions
    or TV signal propagation (which is currently weakening in strength and detectability due to the conversion to digital TV and migration to Satellite, cable and internet TV), versus targeting specific planets with narrow-beam microwave transmissions that are brighter than the Sun (in those frequencies.)

    • Alex Tolley December 1, 2016, 17:04

      10,000years is almost as long as humans have been civilized (living in cities). Our expectations are that we will be a solar system wide civilization by then, and quite likely we will have expanded our civilization to the near stars.

      To stay quiet would mean pretty much abandoning that economic development unless we can cloak all those activities.

      Unless you want to cloak our earthly civilization and make the Earth look pristine, I see no value in trying to stay silent for so long. If the aliens are out there, even if they are only slightly ahead of us technologically, they will be able to observe our planet in great detail telescopically. More likely they have already placed a close by probe to monitor us.

    • Michael Chorost December 1, 2016, 18:17

      I had no idea that there were so many commercial SETI things going on. Thanks for posting all this.

      The problem I have with the “let’s wait 10,000 years” argument (or 10 years, or 100, whatever) is that it can be infinitely renewed. One never has complete information about anything. Suppose in 10 years we see technosignatures from several nearby planet? People will still say “Wait.” Suppose in 100 years actually get a message? People will still say “Wait.” With this mindset, the waiting never ends. Communication always entails risk. Always. That will never go away. But it seems to me that, historically on Earth, the benefits of communication have usually outweighed the risks in the long run. So I very much disagree with the “Wait till we know more” voices, because what they are really saying is, “Let’s just be fearful, forever.”

    • Mark Zambelli December 6, 2016, 13:26

      “… I think a strong case could be made that there’s a substantial difference between leaking spread spectrum radar in random directions
      or TV signal propagation (which is currently weakening in strength and detectability due to the conversion to digital TV and migration to Satellite, cable and internet TV), versus targeting specific planets with narrow-beam microwave transmissions that are brighter than the Sun (in those frequencies.)”

      I don’t see why. EM signals of any kind emanating from any planet broadcast “we’re here” (along with all the other signs… biomarkers, atmospheric pollutants etc)… I don’t see the difference between intentional and accidental messaging when the result is the same; ETI becomes aware of us.

      A lot of people imagine we’ll be “rattling their cage” by doing METI… as if the only way ETI will ever become aware of us is if we initiate an EM signal, but to use the forest analogy it reduces to merely keeping quiet while we stand next to our roaring campfire while surrounded by advanced forest dwellers with their night-vision goggles on.

      • Jason W. Higley December 11, 2016, 19:54

        Does shooting a laser at somebody wearing night-vision googles improve ones chances of evading detection? If there is a flock of birds alerted by the alarm of one of them, does the squawking bird get ignored or eaten first? Does yelling in the African Savannah increase your chances of survival? Or more to the point, we (currently) literally are not able to intercept leaked Earth-like transmissions from further than a light year with our current methodologies. Under Seth Shostak’s and Frank Drake’s assumption that E.T.’s could use their star as a gravitational lens to image urban light pollution (and other EM radiation), this idea is predicated on many assumptions: 1. That E.T.’s will want to put spacecraft at the focal points of their local star to image planets using gravitational lensing, 2. that its’ easy to maneuver a spacecraft at 1000 A.U.’s to the next focal location for the next planet to be imaged 3. that they are close enough to the target planet to image light pollution, 4. that they also have and emit (wasteful) light pollution and don’t care about their environment (for themselves or the other local biology), 5. that they will remember for millions of years (on average) that newbie civilizations have light pollution, 6. that they are not part of a galaxy-wide Darwinian selection process that confers benefits upon stealthy behaviors, AND PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT IN MY VIEW 7. they practice reciprocal altruism. This last point (to which I’ve given great consideration with regard to the science of reciprocal altruism within Earth’s own animals), gives rise to a variation of The Prisoner’s Dilemma. I won’t elaborate on it here, but the punchline of a book I wrote awhile ago that’s sort of related to this subject (The SETI Game, Reciprocal Altruism Game Theory Applied to The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligences (SETI), and Other SETI-related Musings) is that IT PROBABLY EVENTUALLY WILL MAKE SENSE from a SETI perspective to periodically ping neighbors to induce a response, but that not listening beforehand is probably a bad strategy? IMO we don’t have anything intelligent to say to billion year old civilizations, and squawking to the Universe is just vane narcissism.

  • hiro December 1, 2016, 21:16

    Trying to get attention of (artificial) creatures that have capabilities to process thoughts 10^30 computations per second per kg (cps/kg) or higher is very hard, the smartest creature on this planet is at least 10 orders lower ( human brain ~ 1 kg @ < 10^20 cps) hence this is almost the same to some type of "communication" between human and bugs, well only biologists have unhealthy interests but not the general population.

  • JimU December 1, 2016, 21:29

    Perhaps it’s quiet out there due to intergalactic or larger interdiction – don’t interrupt the newbies. In that case, it’s irreverent whether we transmit or not, and maybe considered quaint. This may make the paranoid leaners nervous, but surely in that case, the bigger picture is more positive leaning.

    • Mark Zambelli December 7, 2016, 6:22

      This is just the ‘Zoo Hypothesis’ and it relys on 100% cooperation…. all it takes is a single instance of an ETI thumbing their tentacles at authority to undo all their hardwork and letting us in on the game… there’s an analogy in ‘The Truman Show’ film to this effect (several times in fact) and the main article above cites many instances where individuals have ignored any (loose) consensus and performed METI on their own. As has been stated many times during discussions here over the years, it is hard to justify 100% cooperation 100% of the time and seems a fallable idea.

      (I like the idea that ‘they’ might find our efforts quaint… very comforting thought, I would imagine).

  • Neil S December 2, 2016, 12:20

    It would be hard to enforce a prohibition against any contacted civilization in this part (any part?) of the galaxy doing anything whatever that would generate obviously-artificial electromagnetic signals, thus alerting watchful newbies.

    On a tangential matter I can off the top of my head think of two reasons why some civilization or entity might instinctively destroy an emerging race. One is if there’s a struggle for resources or a foreseeable struggle for resources. And I guess if you’re thinking long, long term there could always be a foreseeable struggle for resources.

    The other is if there’s a concern the emerging civilization could, at some point, in short order become an effective enemy. As someone pointed out, crashing a vehicle at near light-speed into a planet would do it in, and how do you defend against something like that which could come from any direction? Or, think singularity.

    Of course getting survivable parts of your civilization off the home planet and into a large and dispersed number of space habitats would be some protection from that. We need to get at it. A technologically-advanced-enough civilization could surely, however, sterilize a whole solar system in short order.

  • ljk December 2, 2016, 12:52

    A direct communication proposal to test the Zoo Hypothesis

    João Pedro de Magalhães

    Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool, Biosciences Building, Room 245, Crown Street, Liverpool, L69 7ZB, UK

    Received 3 March 2016, Accepted 16 June 2016, Available online 26 July 2016




    Whether we are alone in the universe is one of the greatest mysteries facing humankind. Given the >100 billion stars in our galaxy, many have argued that it is statistically unlikely that life, including intelligent life, has not emerged anywhere else. The lack of any sign of extraterrestrial intelligence, even though on a cosmic timescale extraterrestrial civilizations would have enough time to cross the galaxy, is known as Fermi’s Paradox.

    One possible explanation for Fermi’s Paradox is the Zoo Hypothesis which states that one or more extraterrestrial civilizations know of our existence and can reach us, but have chosen not to disturb us or even make their existence known to us.

    I propose here a proactive test of the Zoo Hypothesis. Specifically, I propose to send a message using television and radio channels to any extraterrestrial civilization(s) that might be listening and inviting them to respond. Even though I accept this is unlikely to be successful in the sense of resulting in a response from extraterrestrial intelligences, the possibility that extraterrestrial civilizations are monitoring us cannot be dismissed and my proposal is consistent with current scientific knowledge. Besides, issuing an invitation is technically feasible, cheap and safe, and few would deny the profound importance of establishing contact with one or more extraterrestrial intelligences.

    A Web site has been set up (http://active-seti.info) to encourage discussion of this proposal and for drafting the invitation message.


    • Alex Tolley December 2, 2016, 15:11

      Doesn’t seem to be a well thought out experiment to me.

      • Mark Zambelli December 6, 2016, 12:28

        Me too… ‘if’ the Zoo Hypothesis is true, there must be a good reason for it and I don’t think we’d be able to sway their opinion just by messaging them.

        • ljk December 7, 2016, 10:53

          You know how zoos have “Please don’t feed the animals” signs? You also know that some visitors disobey that request all the time. And other times a few actually get into the cages with the animals, which is a real no-no.

          Maybe everyone else in the Universe is a perfectly rational and well-behaved being who follow all the rules and laws, but my bet is if you evolved from a less sophisticated species, then you still have the potential for contrary and subversive behavior. Humans certainly would not even be as far along as they are if everyone had obeyed the (often self-appointed) authority figures.

  • JimU December 2, 2016, 13:14

    Meant “irrelevant” not “irreverent”!

  • ljk December 19, 2016, 10:16

    Extragalactic Lighthouses –“We Can Now Detect Directed Signals From the Depths of the Cosmos”

    December 17, 2016

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    “If even one other civilization existed in our galaxy and had a similar or more advanced level of directed-energy technology, we could detect ‘them’ anywhere in our galaxy with a very modest detection approach,” said UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin, head of the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group this past June. “If we scale it up as we’re doing with direct energy systems, how far could we detect a civilization equivalent to ours? The answer becomes that the entire universe is now open to us.

    Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same. Photonics advances allow us to be seen across the universe, with major implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says Lubin.

    “But suppose there is a civilization like ours and suppose — unlike us, who are skittish about broadcasting our presence — they think it’s important to be a beacon, an interstellar or extragalactic lighthouse of sorts,” he added. “There is a photonics revolution going on on Earth that enables this specific kind of transmission of information via visible or near-infrared light of high intensity.”


    “If even one other civilization existed in our galaxy and had a similar or more advanced level of directed-energy technology, we could detect ‘them’ anywhere in our galaxy with a very modest detection approach,” said UC Santa Barbara physicist Philip Lubin, head of the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group this past June. “If we scale it up as we’re doing with direct energy systems, how far could we detect a civilization equivalent to ours? The answer becomes that the entire universe is now open to us.

    Imagine if we sent up a visible signal that could eventually be seen across the entire universe. Imagine if another civilization did the same. Photonics advances allow us to be seen across the universe, with major implications for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, says Lubin.

    “But suppose there is a civilization like ours and suppose — unlike us, who are skittish about broadcasting our presence — they think it’s important to be a beacon, an interstellar or extragalactic lighthouse of sorts,” he added. “There is a photonics revolution going on on Earth that enables this specific kind of transmission of information via visible or near-infrared light of high intensity.”

  • Alexander Zaitsev December 19, 2016, 14:59

    I must underline that we travelled to Kiev together with Sergey Ignatov,

  • Michael Chorost December 19, 2016, 17:35

    Sasha, I’m sorry for not having amended my Cosmic Call Story to give Sergey Ignatov credit for traveling with you. I will see if I can get the editor to do that (it’s not always easy.) But in any case I will make sure I include the correction in my book-in-progress.

  • ljk December 28, 2016, 12:18

    Scientists plan on contacting the closest Earth-like exoplanet to our Solar System

    Hi, neighbour.


    27 DEC 2016

    Scientists are making preparations to send a transmission to Proxima b – the closest Earth-like exoplanet to our Solar System.

    The team is putting together a plan to build or buy a powerful deep-space transmitter, and is now figuring out what our message should be – after all, we don’t want to make a bad first impression.

    “If we want to start an exchange over the course of many generations, we want to learn and share information,” president of the San Francisco-based Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) organisation, Douglas Vakoch, told The Mercury News.

    Full article here:


  • Neil S December 28, 2016, 16:26

    I looked over the METI BOD and supervisors list. There are some pertinent areas of expertise but I don’t see anything on military history or space weapons or even sci-fi. And the blog post on “Is Active SETI Really Dangerous” assumes the distance between us offers all the protection we’d need. That shows a very dangerous lack of imagination.

    If aliens who detect our signal are even a little bit technologically advanced and want, for whatever reason, to harm or destroy us I can think of a few things they might likely be able to do. E.g. launch a small cloud of rocks or shells our way at a significant fraction of c. Launch a robotic ship to enter our atmosphere surreptitiously and unleash grey-goo-generating nanobots. Or some very virulent organism. Or a very large H-bomb. Or a carpet of neutron bombs. And that’s just slight beyond our capabilities and off the top of my head.

    I’ve no doubt these people are well-intentioned but I’m afraid they are too enthusiastic for our good.

    • ljk January 5, 2017, 13:12

      99% percent of SETI/METI is still volunteer effort, so do not expect real organized efforts until more than just that Russian billionaire take the fields seriously.

      One small, barely civilized species on a lone planet surrounded by a vast and ancient Universe of countless star systems and galaxies, and it still can’t seem to make up its mind whether finding out if other intelligences exist or not is a good idea.

  • ljk January 5, 2017, 13:08

    2017 Will Be the Year We Decide Whether to Put a Call Out to Aliens

    Written by Kaleigh Rogers, Staff Writer

    January 4, 2017 // 10:00 AM EST

    Full article here:


    Whether this particular METI attempt is approved or not, there will always be others sending messages into the galaxy so long as humans remain individuals and have access to the appropriate communications technology – and they often do not even bother to ask permission.

    As I have said elsewhere before, what will anyone be able to do if China decides to announce itself into the Cosmos with its new gigantic FAST radio telescope?