Lone Signal: First Continous Message Beacon to Find and Say Hello to an Extraterrestrial Civilization

by Nancy Atkinson on June 12, 2013

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The Jamesburg Earth Station radio dish in Carmel, California will be used to send the Lone Signal messages to space. Image via Lone Signal.

The Jamesburg Earth Station radio dish in Carmel, California will be used to send the Lone Signal messages to space. Image via Lone Signal.

Although scientists have been listening for years to search for indications of other sentient life in the Universe, just a few efforts have been made by humans to purposefully send out messages to the cosmos. Called METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence) or Active SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), these messages have so far been just one-time bursts of info – or “pulses in time” said Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra.

Haqq-Misra is leading a team of scientists and entrepreneurs who are launching a new initiative called “Lone Signal” which will send the first continuous mass “hailing messages” out into space, starting later this month. They’ll be specifically targeting one star system, Gliese 526, which has been identified as a potentially habitable solar system.

And yes, the general public can participate.

“From the start we wanted to be an experiment where anyone on Earth could participate,” said Haqq-Misra during a press event on June 11, 2013, announcing the project.

“Our scientific goals are to discover sentient beings outside of our solar system,” said Lone Star co-founder Pierre Fabre, also speaking at the event. “But an important part of this project is to get people to look beyond themselves and their differences by thinking about what they would say to a different civilization. Lone Signal will allow people to do that.”

Lone Signal will be using the recommissioned radio dish at the Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel, California, one of the dishes used to carry the Apollo Moon landings live to the world.


Timelapse of the Jamesburg Earth Station

Lone Signal will be sending two signals: one is a continuous wave (CW) signal, a hailing message that sends a slow binary broadcast to provide basic information about Earth and our Solar System using an encoding system created by astrophysicist and planetary scientist Michael W. Busch. The binary code is based on mathematical “first principles” which reflect established laws that, theoretically, are relatively constant throughout the universe; things like gravity and the structure of the hydrogen atom, etc.

“This hailing message is a language we think could be used to instigate communication,” said Haqq-Misra, “and is the most advanced binary coding currently in use.”

The second signal, embedded in the first signal, will be messages from the people of Earth.

Strength of various signals from Earth.  Graph courtesy of Dr. Haqq-Misra.

Strength of various signals from Earth. Graph courtesy of Dr. Haqq-Misra.

Since Gliese 526 is 17.6 light years from Earth, the messages will be beamed to the coordinates of where the star will be in 17.6 years from now. Even though no planets have been found yet in this system, the Lone Signal team said they are confident planets exist there since missions like Kepler and Corot have found that most stars host multiple planets.

The Lone Signal team is allowing anyone with access to the internet to send the equivalent of one free text message or Twitter message — a 144-character text-based message — into space. The team said they want to have messages sent from people all around the world to provide messages that are “representative of humanity.”

Anything additional, like more messages, images, etc., will cost money, but those funds will help support the project.

“In effect we are doing our own Kickstarter and doing the crowdfunding on our own,” said Lone Signal CEO Jamie King. “Long Signal would not be possible without crowd sourcing support, which will be used for maintaining the millions of dollars in equipment, powering the dish, running the web portal and other critical tech that makes the project possible.”

If you want to be part of the project and be a “beamer” you can currently sign up at the Lone Signal website –which currently doesn’t have much information. But on June 18th their public site will go live and ‘beamers will be able to submit messages as well as:

• Share Beams / Track Beams – Once signed in, users can see how far their beam has traveled from Earth as well as share it with the beaming community.

• Dedicate Beams – Parents, friends and loved ones can dedicate a beam to others.

• Explore – The Explore section gives beamers current data on the Lone Signal beam, who is sending messages, from where on Earth, overall stats, etc.

• Blog / Twitter – Via their blog and Twitter, the Lone Signal science team and other contributors will be posting opinion articles on associated topics of interest as well as sharing the latest science news and updates.

One you submit your “beam” you’ll be able to “echo” it on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

After a user sends their initial free message, Lone Signal will be offering paid credit packages for purchase that allow users to transmit and share longer messages as well as images using credits in the following USD price structure:
• $0.99 buys 4 credits.
• $4.99 buys 40 credits.
• $19.99 buys 400 credits.
• $99.99 buys 4000 credits.

Following the initial free message, each subsequent text-based message costs 1 credit. Image-based messages cost 3 credits.

The team said that each message will be sent as an individual packet of information and won’t be bunched with other messages.

While some scientists have indicated that sending messages out into space might pose a hazard by attracting unwanted attention from potentially aggressive extraterrestrial civilizations, Haqq-Misra thinks the benefits outweigh the potential hazards. In fact, he and his team have written a paper about the concept.

“We want to inspire passion for the space sciences in people young and old, encourage citizens of Earth to think about their role in the Universe, and inspire the next generation of scientists and astronauts,” said Lone Signal chief marketing officer Ernesto Qualizza. “We’re really excited to find out what people will want to say, and the science of METI allows people to do this – to think about more than their own backyard.”

More info: Lone Signal

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

freedom_and_justice June 12, 2013 at 2:01 AM

What a neat project!

Adrian Griffis June 12, 2013 at 3:30 AM

The table doesn’t say how far away these various antennae could be and still detect the signals in question.

Coacervate June 12, 2013 at 5:50 PM

This gives some indication…Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison. Published in Nature, Vol. 184, Number 4690, pp. 844-846, September 19, 1959. The classic paper published in Nature … interesting reading

Astroraider June 12, 2013 at 4:35 AM

This is really a bad idea … anyone see the movie Battleship …

hawkDU June 12, 2013 at 12:09 AM

At this rate we’ll be long gone before any baddies show up. Let’s get some Beethoven out there beforehand. Chuck Berry? Miles?

bfmorris June 12, 2013 at 7:03 AM

No but I’ve seen every episode of Stargate Atlantis and Stargate SG1. Bad idea. :)

Kevin Frushour June 12, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Those weren’t the brightest aliens.

LisaMarli June 12, 2013 at 8:12 AM

We are already blasting our existence with radio and tv signals. What difference would it make if we send an intelligent planned signal instead. Do we want them thinking we are the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy? Or worse yet the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, some of those a very anti-alien. Let’s send something Nice Intelligent and Non-Threatening. We might make friends. If they are out to destroy us, they already have all the information they need.

Starcastle2011 June 12, 2013 at 9:48 AM

No, no, no. These 50 year old ideas are not supported by science. JPL did the study and television signals don’t remain coherent as far as the Oort Cloud.

Coacervate June 12, 2013 at 8:19 AM

We commend you for making this initial effort at contact. We have been wondering for some time if you would ever overcome your needless but understandable fears. We are pleased to inform that we will be visiting soon and invite all and sundry to come back with us for a visit. Eat, drink and be merry! After all, we are here To Serve Man. heh.

Starcastle2011 June 12, 2013 at 9:47 AM

This guy should go back on his meds.

krenshala June 12, 2013 at 3:19 PM

So, I take it you are not familiar with the story/movie he is paraphrasing?

Starcastle2011 June 12, 2013 at 3:24 PM

I saw “To Serve Man” when it was first released on Twilight Zone. The comment lacks relevance. Why do people think the answer to every questions that involves science and philosophy to be found in Science Fiction?

Coacervate June 12, 2013 at 5:40 PM

You are wise to be bitter

Starcastle2011 June 12, 2013 at 9:46 AM

The idea is naive and dangerous. First, if there’s a sufficiently advanced civilization out there do we really want to make them aware of our 21st century Earth? If it turns out they’re hostile (not unlikely) they this guy has the deaths of seven billion on his head. Second – get this idea about TV Signals out of your head. Contact was wrong. According to JPL TV signals don’t remind coherent for even a light year. Go back to your science fiction and leave science for scientists.

zetetic elench June 12, 2013 at 3:04 PM

What is naive is thinking anything can cross the gulf between the stars or that any transmission will be heard and decoded. This is being done for fun and money. Maybe someone will learn something. (Hopefully the aliens will think the signals came from behind the Earth, after all, how could they tell if it wasn’t?)

Kevin Frushour June 12, 2013 at 10:29 AM

I like the idea of transmitting a signal — HOWEVER, I think a vote from the peoples of Earth should happen first.

Dav_Daddy June 12, 2013 at 11:21 AM

I agree this is a terrible idea. Even if they are not “hostile” have we not learned what happens when an advanced and primative culture come into contact yet?

*Hint it never ends well for the less advanced one.

OleCuss June 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM

While I’d agree that generally announcing your presence and nature without knowing the nature of your target audience is not bright, mostly it’s a huge waste of time and money.

I mean, if we are trying to benefit from communication with a more advanced civilization which is eager to help us, then do we know just why they have not yet initiated communication with us?

Seriously, the odds of our finding helpful and intelligent life in this fashion are vanishingly small. I’d hope people choose to do something more worthwhile than this.

That said, if one chose to participate by sending a message, would they be allowed their choice of epithets in messages questioning the parentage and morals of the exoplanet aliens? Would we be allowed to insult their looks?

Jennifer Jones June 12, 2013 at 2:03 PM

i think it’s an amazing idea. To me its like a time capsule that you can put into outerspace. So cool and interesting. You all watch too many movies, thinking aliens are gonna come and blast our planet!!! If we are doing SETI why not METI! It’s innovative and so exciting. All we talk about is the search for life on other planets – these people are doing it. I will definitely be signing up.

Starcastle2011 June 12, 2013 at 3:13 PM

When the subject is wasting money, SETI may be the biggest boondoggle in history. It’s mostly driven by science fiction and the press. You know the press that recently came out with a new story that stated, “New Exoplanet Found – Only 300 Light Years from Earth”. Yeah, why don’t we just hop over next weekend. The real problem with METI is if you’re right it could be something wonderful. If you’re wrong, you’ve killed every man, woman, and child on Earth. Quite a price for satisfying your own curiosity.

Tony Scharf June 12, 2013 at 2:05 PM

What could POSSIBLY go wrong!

Kawarthajon June 12, 2013 at 2:21 PM

This is so silly and a waste of resources, imho. I’m not against this idea in principle, but there is such a low probability of having an advanced civilization who has the capacity to receive, interpret and respond to these signals, I just don’t think it is worth even attempting. (before calling a phone number, don’t we usually figure out if anyone is on the other end of the line before dialing?)

Instead, let’s focus our attention on finding a planet that might harbour any kind of life on it, before we start searching for “intelligent radio wave communicating” life on it. I think we’re jumping the gun here – start with the basics and work up to the more complicated tasks.

Having said that, people are free to waste their money however they want, including on lottery tickets that have very little chance of winning.

Olaf2 June 12, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Just for fun we beam the signal to some nut alien and pretend that we are ZETA aliens with an important message about their world. Their end is nigh.

Aqua4U June 12, 2013 at 5:20 PM

Message s/b: “Help! We’re stuck on this rock with a bunch of half whits bent on destroying the planet with their greed driven endeavors!” THAT ought to keep em away…

Steroid June 12, 2013 at 5:37 PM

How stupid and gullible are people, the paper written about the concept is a NASA article written by NASA scientists. Secondly the RF dish shown in this photo was also recently advertised for sale in the NYTimes or 3 Million dollars, the millions of dollars of equipment is out dated cold war technology that can just about get a message to the moon, I can tell you now, that dish would not even be able to broadcast outside of this solar system.

As it spells out in the paper METI transmissions are short in duration, low in power or gain, or high in bandwidth because they are swamped by Earth’s radio leakage. If you really wanted to scream at ET “hey we’re over here!!” you would need a transmitter far more powerful than the one used to speak to someone on the moon.

The transmition lonesignal is proposing to send into space doesn’t even have the radio power to even reach it’s destination. Only one such facility does, that’s the HAARP array located in ALASKA but I don’t for see a lot of Scientist’s bending over backwards to let you do something as foolhardy as blast 1420MHz into space for a duration of 120 minutes.

Also from reading the Wikipedia: Jamesburg Earth Station is located in the rural Cachagua area of Carmel Valley, California, In 2005, the new owner, intending to use the structure as a weekend home, stripped the interior and sold the contents as scrap, although the dish itself remains. The new owner then decided to sell the property after his youngest son died of cancer. In January 2012, it was put up for sale for $2,950,000

So what we have here is someone telling people a group of scientist’s have clearly spent $2,950,000 to buy a vastly under powered RF dish with no equipment, that can just about bounce a signal off the moon (thats if they’ve bothered to put the equipment back!), if you’re thinking you can contact another world with that dish when it could not put a signal beyond our own solar system, I would say not.

But hey it’s your credit card, sign-up and speak to martians!

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/us/jamesburg-earth-station-can-be-yours-for-3-million.html?_r=0 ?

Aqua4U June 12, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Keywords from the above are: “…recommissioned radio dish…” No mention is made of how this dish was ‘recommissioned’…. what equipment, power supply or computational cap.

Steroid June 12, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Exactly and according to the Newyork Times article:

“It’s in the danger zone,” he said. “Someone is going to have to be really crazy and really rich to buy it.”

Fiber optics made the station’s technology obsolete. Mr. Bullis, 56, who develops security systems for nuclear plants and other sites, had hoped to develop an Internet business there.

Clearly someone has seen a business opertunity: It called “gullible UFO enthusiasts!” with deep pockets and “no brains”

Aqua4U June 12, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Didja watch the video? At the very least the antenna is steerable. Not sure about the comment “It’s in the danger zone.” but assume they are talking about earthquake country?

Steroid June 12, 2013 at 6:11 PM

Look at the photo’s of the place on the NYTimes, it’s a wreak! An to be fair anyone can move a dish, they dont have to use an electric winch, they have handles to turn the wheels you know!

The photo’s show the majority of the facility is in total darkness. IE: Long out of service left over from the Cold War!

Joe_de_Loe June 12, 2013 at 8:09 PM

It is a small but unwarranted risk of my and my children’s lives – a risk that I did not authorize them to take, or agree to in any way. I’ll certainly contribute $$ to a lawsuit or my time to stop even their attempt.

It does seem to be a scam. The paper they refer to shows that the receiving civilization, with a 1 square KM antenna array, pointed at Earth, would have to be within 1.5 light years, to hear the Lone Signal at Madley 49. Gliese 526 is 17 light years away.

If they had a more powerful transmitter though, they’d have more chance at being able to pull it off.

LP June 12, 2013 at 9:02 PM

Lol! What a waste of time, they’re already here! Why don’t we figure out how to properly clean up all the garbage on this planet as a collective human civilization before we go saying hi to E.Ts.

Petra Bakker June 12, 2013 at 4:56 PM

Isent this a way to chance the frequentie or manipulated our human vribriations. After all if we can send a signal from all over the world ..loged into a systeem ..!?

wbramh June 13, 2013 at 1:51 AM

Sounds like inane Twitter-type messages are being encouraged. A sure way to guarantee that no truly intelligent ET tweets back.

Zee Zarbock June 13, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Sending deliberate signals is probably just a money making scheme. There is nothing dangerous about it, in my opinion, as we are easily “seen” already in a variety of ways for someone/something that might really be interested in finding “intelligent” life elsewhere. We do need to improve our listening capabilities, in my opinion, however.

Kawarthajon June 13, 2013 at 3:56 PM

I agree with your initial statements. It is ridiculous for people to get worried that this will spell impending doom for our civilization because we are inviting aliens to attack. That is an utterly nonsensical concept, driven by great fiction (i.e. movies, tv shows, books, comics, video games, etc.). The chances of finding an intelligent civilization in the first place are much lower than the chances of one person winning every major lottery in the world on the same day. The chances of the civilization being hostile to humans is pretty low, as is the chance that they would be able to get to us and attack even if they were hostile.

People, put your aluminium hats away and relax. This project is nothing more than a waste of money, but it is not dangerous to us Earthlings in any way!

Zee Zarbock June 13, 2013 at 4:02 PM

Thanks, Kawarthajon. Let me repeat to everyone else, sending signals is no danger. We gave ourselves away as “intelligent” to the universe centuries ago in ways that had nothing to do with radio.

Joe_de_Loe June 13, 2013 at 11:48 PM

We may have given ourselves away already, but maybe not. Why shout and try to make certain of it? Their narrow-bandwidth, high gain signal has a much greater range than normal RF activity.

Zee Zarbock June 14, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Respectfully, the only “may” is in regard to if anyone is out there picking stuff up. We are looking for and finding exoplanets and are able to identify chemical elements on them when we find them–elements that would give away intelligent life. Granted, that’s life as we speculate it may be. However, we can easily, very easily, be seen the same way. Not to mention our radio and tv signals, signals to space probes, etc.

Joe_de_Loe June 13, 2013 at 11:47 PM

While it is unlikely that they will succeed, that is not the point. There is a chance, however small, that they will succeed and who the #$%! are they to make that call for any of us?

Also, I would love to see the math backing your statement about the chances of finding intelligent life vs lottery winning. You have no clue how many civilizations are out there, so your statement on it is meaningless.

Similar comment on them being hostile, but there is some data in this case – ‘we’ are such a civilization. We still have wars and kill each other. We evolved to kill others unlike ourselves because we live on a resource limited planet – as they must. And, finally, if we first discovered an ugly-looking alien civilization that might one day attack us, might someone here not make a decision to strike first out of caution?

Joe_de_Loe June 14, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Sure the lion in the jungle is perfectly able to see you and smell you, but you don’t know if it has yet. It would be stupid to shout at it.

In none of the other means of detection is the detected energy _directed_ at a habitable world. None of the other means of detection have the primary intent of alerting someone to our presence. All of the other means are beneficial to society or are just a function of there being life here. There would be a significant cost to society to try to cloak any of these signals, except the intentional transmission. Why increase the risk to 7 billion humans by even a tiny amount, when all we have to do is not shout in the jungle?

The Lone Signal folks are out for fame, or to make a buck, or both. They don’t care that they are taking a risk, however, small, with the whole planet.

Zee Zarbock June 14, 2013 at 8:35 PM

We will have to agree to disagree. The danger is nil.

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