Astronomy, SETI

Aliens Might Be Moving Stars to Communicate With Us

22 Feb , 2008 by

You’ve got to love the audacity of this idea. In a recent article at Discover Magazine, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier (you know, the guy with the dreadlocks) proposes that we get working on repositioning nearby stars to form geometric patterns – or at least start looking for places that it’s already been done by aliens.

Move stars around into patterns? That’s pretty crazy stuff. Sure, but there isn’t any physical reason why it isn’t possible; it happens all the time when galaxies collide. Of course, a spray of stars hurled into intergalactic space at random is different from a great big peace sign.

In order to actually move a star requires a gravitational tractor, and engineers are already planning this kind of a mission for a threat closer to home: asteroids. By flying a spacecraft near an asteroid, and fighting against the gravity pulling it down, you can actually pull the asteroid off course. Over a long period of time, you can move the asteroid enough in its orbit to prevent it from striking the Earth.

So scale that idea up. Send out a fleet of these spacecraft to tinker with the orbits of Kuiper Belt objects. These objects could rain into the inner Solar System and prod the Sun’s motion through the galaxy. Over a long period of time (a really really long period of time), you could impart enough of a velocity change to drive your star anywhere you wanted it to go.

With this technique, and a few million years to time to kill, you could line up stars into a formation that shows an intelligence was behind it. The more stars you put into formation, the better your message will be.

One interesting suggestion, made to Lanier by Piet Hut at the Institute for Advanced Study is a multiply nested binary system. Imagine binary systems, orbiting binary systems, orbiting binary systems. With 16 stars in formation, you’d have a shape that mother nature would never arrange on her own, but would be stable for long periods of time. From long distances, astronomers wouldn’t be able to resolve the individual stars, but they’d definitely know something strange was going on.

The advantage to this, of course, is that stars are visible for tremendous distances. Why bother sending out puny radio signals when you can harness the energy of an entire star.

Physicists predict that civilizations will eventually advance to the point that they master all the energy of their home planet, their star system, and eventually their entire galaxy. And if you’re harnessing every watt of energy pouring out of every star in the galaxy, who’d miss a little extra energy being used for communications.

So, uh… let’s get on that.

Original Source: Discover Magazine

By  -          
Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

54 Responses

  1. ranjea says:

    that is nice to think about.
    maybe aliens have done this already. i can remember some nebula looking like a hand or other things or features. maybe aliens are not as obsessed with math like scientists here on earth (not meaning they did not need it to get to that point of their evoloution).
    If somebody has a link to such nebula or star formations, please post a link

  2. Yael Dragwyla says:

    The first thing that comes to mind upon reading this article is, “Why bother with that? Isn’t there an easier way to do the same thing, i.e., communicate?” I can see, e.g., Scientologists coming up with something this weird as a way of aliens trying to communicate with other civilizations, but not scientists or engineers who know what they’re doing. The only reason I could see for such an exorbitantly costly project is as part of some religious devotion or that sort of thing, analagous to the building of the pyramids by the Ancient Egyptians. When it comes to religious behavior, the sky’s the limit, so maybe ETs might do something like this to please their Gods or ornament their tombs or whatever.

  3. ntoskrnl says:

    Sounds pretty far fetched none the less. Where would information besides ‘theres something strange’ be stored? Taking binary code: lining up stars in a ‘there’ – ‘not there’ (means 0 or 1) manner, it would require really lot of stars to make some worthy message, and it would be static (a radio message has a time factor and can contain much more information)

  4. the guy says:

    The reference to a binary system has nothing to do with code, but with a 2-star system orbiting another 2-star system and so on. On a large enough scale that would create a non-natural pattern observable from far away. Unfortunately radio transmissions and the like dissipate with distance and fade into the background ‘noise’ of the universe. As far fetched as it is, its definately a way to let others know “hey, look at us!” Although there is the time that it would take the light to travel to deep space… hmm

  5. clocker says:

    why not just email them?

  6. Darrin says:

    Wouldn’t we have to travel at faster than light speeds just to get to the stars we want to manipulate? If we’ve reached such a high level of technology, why would we not simply hop in our spaceships and look for alien life ourselves? It would probably be faster than waiting several millions of years to get all the stars to line up right and then waiting for the light to reach the aliens.

  7. Great idea 😛 I’m sure it’ll work out brilliantly.

    If you love this blog – you’ll love this site:

  8. Robert I. Eachus says:

    Interesting idea, but…we have the old problem of something that seems an “obvious” choice to us may not be the pattern that some other civilization might think was obvious. I’ve always wondered about Polaris, which is a close binary pair of a Cephid variable and a sun-like star, with a third companion much further away.

    We can make all sorts of interesting guesses about how that system came to be, but “natural” doesn’t fit very well.

    On the other hand, maybe it is a nested binary system like the one proposed. Polaris A was only found to be an astrometric binary about 50 years ago. (Recently the Hubble resolved Polaris A and Ab optically.) Does Polaris B have a faint companion which is right now behind–or in front of–Polaris B from our vantage point. (Astrometric binaries are detected by the change in velocity of the main star with respect to Earth. It is much easier to detect motion toward or away from Earth, than side-to-side motion. And of course, you have to correct for the effect of Polaris A, and Ab.)

    Or perhaps the “Engagement Ring” of small stars near Polaris is part of the construction of a nested binary system. 😉

    If I was doing this, I would set up a system with stars of the proper masses to have a consellation of four stars, with the smallest stars in the L4 and L5 positions.

  9. tacitus says:

    I don’t think it’s at all likely that a civilization would move stars around as a signal to other civilizations in the same galaxy. By the time you reach that level of sophistication, there are other less difficult and much more reliable ways to seek out contact with other intelligent species.

    For one, building a series of humongous telescopes in deep space in different parts of the galaxy to observe stars at a distance for signs of life. Our own civilization has barely begun to explore the galaxy and yet we’re likely to begin imaging extrasolar planets within no more than a decade. Imagine the imaging technology we will have a our disposal within, say, just a couple of hundred more years! Eventually we could probably cover most of the galaxy without having to leave our Solar System. (Yeah, you would probably have to set up a couple of scopes where you could see past the galactic center, but that’s just a technicality for a majorly advanced civilization).

    For another, it’s been calculated that using Von Neumann probes (self replicating machines) traveling at no more than 1/10th of the speed of light we could explore the whole galaxy in just about 500,000 years. That may sound like a long time, but it’s a mere blip compared to the lifetime of the Milky Way.

    So advance aliens might want to love stars around for other reasons (spelling out a love message to an alien sweetheart?) but it will be for parochial purposes of their own, and nothing to do with being a “We Are Here” message to others in the galaxy.

  10. Bob says:

    For communication you could take a cell phone (scale that idea up) find a
    Black hole and program it as a digital gamma ray blinker and surely you will be heard.

  11. tacitus says:

    Continuing from my previous post, there is one case in which I can see some major stellar engineering might be used to get the message out–to send message across the gulf between the galaxies. What if intelligent life is so rare (as some people think) that we eventually discover that we’re the only civilization in the Milky Way? Would we just give up looking or would we begin attempts to contact other civilizations amongst the millions of galaxies out there? Sure, it would take forever, but by then we are likely to living an awful lot longer than we do now, and once we’ve spread out across the Milky Way will our thirst for knowledge be quenched? I don’t think so.

    So, given that there might be other civilizations out there in other galaxies that are already at this point in their evolution, perhaps we should be looking for signs of stellar engineering, not inside the Milky Way, but out there, in Andromeda, M81, and so on.

    What if half-a-dozen supernovae explode in a recognized pattern in M81 over, say, a short few decades? Perhaps it’s a hint to turn all our radio transmitters to the center of that display and tune in to their signal. Barring such an ostentatious display, perhaps we should be looking for something more modest, like the tweaking of a millisecond period of a pulsar (embedding a message) or modifying the spectrum of a Cepheid variable in some artificial way so that it is detected by astronomers who use them as standard candles for measuring distances between galaxies.

    Moving stars around seems a little like too much effort, but if they were blue giants or some other stellar class we can see from another galaxy then perhaps we should be looking for tell tales signs like that too.

    In fact, unless we are already being silently observed by an ETI from elsewhere in this galaxy, I suspect it’s far more likely that the first sign of ETI will come from outside the Milky Way, reaching across millions of light years in a way we may only have just begun to guess at.

  12. Timing says:

    interesting stuff.
    Imagine.. we learn how to leave our physical body behind so we will no longer be captured in our time and space dimension. Makes it easy for us to jump to other galaxies simply by looking at and/or thinking about it. And perhaps our thougths will then be enough to move stars into any formation.
    If there´s any alien out there reading this… do not try this with our Sun without consulting me!

  13. Chuck Lam says:

    Wow! Move stars for the purpose of communication! How arrogant we are to think and talk about how we could develop the capacity to move stars. At the rate we are tearing up planet earth, our species will not survive long enough to pull off such a grandiose notion. For the present, let’s get real and channel our collective brain power, or what’s left of it, into something worthwhile that will insure our survival.

  14. pantzov says:

    “Physicists predict that civilizations will eventually advance to the point that they master all the energy of their home planet, their star system, and eventually their entire galaxy.”

    – heh heh ahhh yeah….

  15. Steve says:

    Aren’t we overlooking the obvious here? Even assuming that this sort of thing could be done, any intentional arrangement of stars would only appear that way to observers along a narrow perpendicular path. To every other observer, the pattern would be meaningless.

    Can we get more scientific articles please?

  16. sk says:

    Why not create a giant light reflector and make it orbit around a few large stars to create a light beam effect.. Think of it as a giant light house.

  17. mcummings says:

    Hmmmm….sounds like someone checked out some McDevitt, had a drink, forgot the book and remembered the concept. [ Spoiler: “Omega” is the novel where it is revealed that the world destroying omega clouds were originally intended to alter stars as a part of an alien tapestry]

  18. Yora Crackpot says:

    Yeah, right. Idiot!

  19. NeoGuru says:

    this has gotta be the dumbest thing I’ve ever read from Astronomy.

  20. John Strebler says:

    Such star formations could already have been formed. Perhaps some advanced civilization acquired that ability two million years ago, but the signal stars that they moved are 10 million light years away from us. We would not observe those stars for eight million more years.

    Such a signalling system would only be observable (within any reasonable time span) to civilizations that formed within a relatively small area around the signal stars. As for the perpendicular viewing, the advanced civilization could form a three dimensional figure with the stars (perhaps a pyramid or box shape).

  21. Molecular says:

    This is interesting. Finally, it’s being taken into consideration that not all of the observable things occurring within the Universe are neccessarily natural events, but that, some of what we are looking at out there , are indeed, the workings of ET’s.

    Perhaps we should go back and re-explore some things we looked at in the past, where we wrote them off as being “natural occurring events”.

    Thinking out of the box is ALWAYS a good thing. :)

  22. John says:

    I’m actually making a 3rd year project on a self replicating probe, that also carries frozen embryos for the purpose of seeding life inc. animal life and plants.
    One probe would weigh 100 million tons, mostly fuel and would take a 1000 years to make a copy of itself. The problem is to map out every star before the probe is launched so as not to create a continually self replicating plague that would consume all material.
    But yeah half a million years to seed the galaxy with life isn’t too shabby.
    Better than moving stars into a pattern that might be seen as a nice coincidence, think face of mars.

  23. YOGIH says:

    We tried to comunicate with you for more than 500 years, dumb earthlings. We moved around about 300 stars but you wouldn’t look in the right direction. We smashed up dozen galaxies, and blown simultaniously about 200 supernovas around your “Milky Way”, with no effect at all. We finally finished all our resources, now YOU have to pay the BILL!
    That’s what we are here for now!

  24. Gadfly says:

    I doubt it. You can either send material by a star on a trajectory that will not allow the star to gravitationally capture it, or you can send material toward a star so it will go into orbit around the star. In the first case, incredible amounts of material would be needed to make even slight adjustments to the star’s orbit around the Milky Way. In the second case, the star would only be given a slight wobble – the material you injected into orbit around the star would cause the star to orbit the barycenter of the stuff-star system, and the barycenter would continue to orbit the Milky Way just the same. No one would notice.

    To significantly alter the positions of stars would require controlling more energy than the kinetic energy of the star’s orbit around the Milky Way. We’re talking fantastic amounts of energy. This is a completely different enterprise than just slightly altering the orbit of an asteroid around the Sun.

  25. Dave says:

    I am certain the MIB boys are reading this very article! =P

  26. Sancho says:

    Why assume that alien civilizations will leave deliberate markers. Much more likely (if at all) there would be signs of galactic equivalents of 3 Mile Island or Hiroshima.

  27. nygenxer says:

    First message:

    “I love you Leela.”

  28. What a load of rubbish, why has Universe Today started publishing sci-fi rather than factual stories. If I want sci-fi I’ll buy a book (or watch Lost in Space – which would be just as believable).

  29. joe terry says:

    don’t think so… they are already here both in our dimension and in others…try the fourth and up… are already here people… why move stars around and take all the trouble to do that???makes no sense at all..
    check out pix of the dark side of the moon… and u will see some evidence of what i am talking about…

  30. Tony Trenton` says:

    For all the detractors.

    It is necessary to have your mind boggled at least twice a day for their to be creativity.

    So said the late great Proffesser Isaac Asimov.

  31. Chuck Lam says:

    Hmm . . . it apears my earlier comments hit a few nerves. For the record, I clearly understand the power of bizarre, off the wall, creative thinking. The problem with “moving stars around for communication purposes” goes so far beyond anything that makes sense, it is totally ridiculous. If we are to brainstorm, let’s do so with a mature eye on reality. As some one pointed out, this is not a sci-fi site.

  32. Sheets says:

    Why not do something a bit more simple, like bang a couple of neutron stars together in a repeating pattern (the pattern may be long – just make the period regular).

    The entire universe would see it (, and anyone sufficiently advanced would interpret the pattern as artificial.

  33. Bob says:

    Fraser! Do you have issues at home, or something?
    Seeing a ridiculous article here that should be condemned to the likes of Coast to Coast is insulting to your site, and to the rest of us.
    This isn’t thought-provoking. There is absolutely no science in the article.

  34. igrnemo says:

    Arthur C. Clarke wrote about this concept in his novel “The City And The Stars” more than fifty years ago, like this:
    “There were a ring of differently coloured stars, visible across vast distances, and in the center were the star shining like a pearl.”

    The concept can be an expression of art at the grandiosest scale.

  35. Poodlhed says:

    It is a very good thing that crackpot ideas (ideas that makes everyone say ‘What the heck are you thinkin’ “) get people thinking and talking to each other about new ideas, possibilities, dreams. So they’re not all good ideas like, “The Earth orbits the Sun”, but if you take all the crackpots and lock them up…what are you left with? Just pick up any history book for an answer! I say, “Hat’s off to the crackpots!” Agree or disagree, yes absolutely, but keep thinking and arguing and disagreeing and growing and learning and understanding and evolving. Just don’t lose sight of that. Keep your minds open, if you agree or disagree with something or someone, great! But keep the overall goal in mind and not in the back of your mind, right out there in front! That’s the goal, that’s the prize, that’s the future…

  36. Dave says:

    Wait a minute everyone!
    Please re-read the first line of the article.. “You’ve got to love the audacity of this idea.” Mr. Cain stated up front that the article was audacious. I am certain he was trying to entertain… Jeez, lighten up and let’s not take ourselves toooooo serious! :)

  37. John Kennell says:

    By the time you have the technology to move stars, you won’t have to.

  38. Colbert Philippe says:

    Silly concept, silly idea! The idea does not make economical sense. There are ways of showing signs of life that are far less expensive and don’t require millions of years. We can do these ideas TODAY!

    One of these idea that comes to mind is to use powerful lazers to project giant geometrical patterns on clouds in our solar system maybe even outside of it. We can project on the saturn disks or even bigger on the Kiepper Beld or on several different coulds at the same time. Far away obsrevers will not mistake the intent.

  39. Dark Gnat says:

    It’s so obvious now! Aliens arranged the stars to for the Orion constellations and the Dippers.

    “After a long day of hunting and warring, have a big, refreshing astro-drink. Don’t forget to chase it with a little dip!!”

    They may not be giving us any thoughtful information, but simply advertising!

  40. Gil says:

    How about sending all of our atomic bombs into space, detonate them in a geometric pattern send a message and empty the threat to our life as we know it at the same time?

  41. Tony Trenton` says:

    Gil! And have more space junk littering the Cosmos?

  42. The Vision says:

    Technically why would Aliens go as far as moving this star or that star formation just to send us a message…if they were that advance they would have landed here long time ago. And while we are on the subject why would any alien come from afar all the way to earth and don’t communicate. That would seem very idiotic. So the form of message I would say would be some sort of frequencies, inwhich are vast. Seti continue to do what you do and you will one day here this….”Is there anyone out there?”

  43. mukundarao says:

    I am seeing everyday or day by day in night
    at 7.00pm to 8.30,some stars are going on from one place to another place, i think it is amazing

  44. LLDIAZ says:

    Why don’t dreadlocks and science mix. I bet you most of those same scientist smoked more then any rasta I’ve ever met.

  45. korak 12 says:

    I think what the person who came up with this concept is doing is trying to get us to think outside the box more than anything else.

    Besides, some day this galaxy will be reconfigured by an intelligent species, whether it be us or someone else.

  46. Sully says:

    Look for weapons effects and engineering projects. The most powerful signal we have sent was that 50 megaton fusion bomb the Russians set off. The most powerful signal we will see from an alien intelligence will be something like a million light year long beam being used to sterilize an area of space whose inhabitants have a different view about religion or something.

  47. willy the impeached says:

    Great! I’ve been looking for a way to give Han Solo the finger!

  48. Laurence Topliffe says:

    In a book entitled How to Know God, which is a translation of The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali, it tells how to perform the things Jesus did that were called miracles, and more. It turns out that Jesus was a yogi and any yogi can do that and anyone can become a yogi. Since this is Man’s fully developed state, and I doubt if we are the only intelligent beings in an infinite universe, it seems that there might be beings out there somewhere who are at that state or were or are involved in a program to develop that state. If being able to do the things Jesus did incluce the ability to move mountains, then why not planets and stars? Sounds logical to me. Do search for “yogic flying.”

  49. procyon says:

    **By the time you have the technology to move stars, you won’t have to.**

    Very much agreed.

  50. alphonso richardson says:

    Intersteller bar billiards? Sounds good to me……………………..

  51. LLDIAZ says:

    This sounds just a bit too crazy for me!!!!!

  52. Sakib says:

    The star cluster NGC 2169 is in the shape of the number, 37. So what if the aliens are trying to tell us the meaning of life is 37?

  53. Vesna says:

    On this level of sophistication you move stars just for fun, or as an act of art…star-art or black- hole-art. Maybe when an abstract artist dies here on Earth, his/her soul goes up, up in the sky where ETs wait for them and give them different tasks, for ex. to move stars and make some beautiful shapes to signal us that we are not alone. That’s it! I’m going to dig a big big hole, fill it with water and try to catch a neutrino. And then I’ll know. The truth is everywhere around us we just have to find it. Yes, a yoga master told me that while we were contemplating the meaning of life.

  54. Chuck Lam says:

    Lanier and Hut must be wacked out on drugs. Moving stars around! Gawd, what are these guys thinking? On a similar matter concerning SETI, this organization is pissing in the wind. They are wasting their time and money searching for a modulated radio signal transmitted by an alien intelligence. Don’t they know (high-school physics) that a modulated radio transmission diminishes dramatically with distance traveled. There may be a fraction of a femto-watt left from a million watt signal to detect after after traveling a light year or two through dust, gas and whatever else is in space. Try detecting a femto-watt against a background of universal noise. It is a bit like trying to find a burning candle on the surface of our sun. It can’t be done. And a modulated coherent laser is just as useless for galactic communication. Where would you aim a laser? As for man colonizing something outside the solar system, that aint going to happen either. The reality is that man is simply too mentally and physically fragile for a multi-generation trip anywhere; not to mention the problem of staying alive on a hostile planet.

Comments are closed.