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Communicating Via the Cepheid Galactic Internet

Cepheid Variable Star.  Credit:  Hubble Space Telescope

Cepheid Variable Star. Credit: Hubble Space Telescope

If an alien species wanted to communicate with Earthlings, or any other civilization that might be out there, how might they do it? Some have proposed microwaves, neutrinos or lasers, or even moving stars around into patterns. But why wouldn’t aliens just use the internet? The Cepheid Galactic Internet, that is. A group of scientists has proposed that a sufficiently advanced civilization could use Cepheid variable stars as beacons to transmit information throughout the galaxy and beyond. These stars can be seen from long distances and, the scientists say, any technologically advanced civilization would likely observe Cepheid variables as distance markers. The group of physicists and astronomers from Hawaii and California propose that Cepheids and any other regular variable stars should be searched for signs of phase modulation and patterns which could be indicative of intentional signaling.

In their paper, the group of scientists proposes that advanced civilizations hoping to communicate would want to use a form of communication with a high data rate, just as everyone on Earth would prefer broadband for their internet. Microwaves and lasers have problems with resolution and noise, while photons or neutrinos would take an enormous amount of power to send messages long distances. And moving stars around? Well, that sounds pretty difficult if not labor intensive. So how about something akin to a T1 line that is already established? All that would need to be done is to “tickle” the star, as the scientists call it, or tweak the Cepheid, to send a message. The researchers write, “Recently, some authors have driven home the point that it is far more energetically practical for transmitting large amounts of data to place long lasting artifacts in stellar systems to which the ETI (extra terrestrial intelligence) may wish communicate information (their history for example) as intelligent life matures and becomes capable of decoding this ‘Rosetta stone.’”

By “tickling” the star, with the delivery of a relatively small amount of energy via neutrinos or other forms of power pulses at the right time could trigger the Cepheid to a specific variability, and a message could be encoded within that variability.

The researchers admit the civilization attempting this would have to be highly advanced. But if some civilization has in fact created a message and sent it via the Cepheid Galactic Internet, all we have do to is open our inbox.

Who knows, they could be on to something. They’ve even discussed their proposal with Freeman Dyson. “It may be a long shot,” they write, “but should it be correct, the payoff would be immeasurable for humanity. The beauty of this suggestion seems to be simply that the data already exists, and we need only look at the data in a new way.”

Sources: arXiv, On Orbit


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Patrick September 5, 2008, 7:31 AM

    Yeah… we could also communicate by modulating a pulsar or maybe by using supernovas to encode morse code… bla blah

    Totally agree with Chuck.

    There should be better peer review to avoid funding wacky research.

  • NoAstronomer September 5, 2008, 8:20 AM

    LOL WUT!?

    This has to be the daftest idea I’ve seen this year. I agree with Chuck, some ideas are just too dumb – even for Star Trek.

  • Jon Hanford September 5, 2008, 10:43 AM

    Two recent papers posted at the arXiv site expound on the possibility of using neutrinos for communication between stars. “SETI and muon collider” (arXiv:0803.0409v1) & ” Galactic Neutrino Communication” (arXiv:0805.2429v2). It seems theorists are exploring many possible modalities with regard to interstellar communication(including quantum teleportation). Some very intriguing possibilites seem to exist and should be explored. The old ’21cm watering hole’ concept has certainly been expanded on.

  • Jon Hanford September 5, 2008, 2:49 PM

    To Chuck Lam, modulation of Cepheid (or other suitable variable stars), seems to be a logical, easily discerned means of interstellar communication. Deep databases on the these stars exist, and possibly a re-examination of this archival data may reveal some interesting info (or not, given the short period of time these observations cover). Anyway, I believe this type of interstellar communication may prove viable in the near or distant future. If no dedicated search is undertaken, certainly Chuck’s prognostication of nondetection will be born out .

  • Frank Glover September 5, 2008, 2:49 PM

    Eric, just because we might detect it, doesn’t mean it’s meant *specifically* for us. (And just because humanity may not be ‘Miss Congeaniality’ of the galaxy,doesn’t mean someone still might not find us interesting. Even we look at bacteria. They would be aliens, after all, and even on this world, there’s no accounting for taste.)

    Still, unless there’s something very subtle in there, it seems to me that modulating a star’s output would mean INSANELY slow bit rates that would make extremely low frequency submarine communications look like broadband…

  • Chuck Lam September 6, 2008, 6:26 AM

    To: Jon Hanford, I agree if it were possible to modulate a Cephied or other star that it might make it an effective means of cosmic communication. The challenge I see is mustering up enough intelligence produced energy to effect what is needed to perform the mind-bending task of star modulation. My visceral feel is this is not a sensible approach to solving the problem of cosmic communication. Overcoming the speed limit of light and, of course, time is the real challenge for cosmic communication.

  • Brad September 7, 2008, 6:55 AM

    Chuck- nail on the head mate. Why oh why try and muster enough juice to modulate a star? Why not just park your transmitter in its vicinity? Or in the vicinity of some other very interesting astronomical object which shouts “look at me” across large portions of the visible universe.

  • Eric Near Buffalo September 8, 2008, 9:07 AM

    Frank Glover:
    I get all that. No problem at all.

    Personally, I want to know if there are aliens out there. Whether or not they are broadcasting to us or if we just so happen to travel into the vicinity of their broadcast, it doesn’t matter to me. It would be the biggest discovery in our history.

    Should we receive a signal, what should we do? Should we attempt to answer? I know the signal would be analyzed to the fullest degree to decipher it’s meaning and origin. For all we know, it could be a cry for help as some far away civilization is under attack from years and years ago. Who knows, maybe it won’t be an old message. They could have technology that would allow them to send a message in a fraction of time compared to what we could do.

    I hope we can find out, undoubtedly, one way or another, whether or not we are truly alone. I hope it’s in my lifetime.

  • Jeremiah and Anthony September 8, 2008, 9:36 PM


    We read your page and were not real impressed considering you did not consider ALL the evidence! You simply dismissed out of hand all the Ancient Prophecies..How about those Sumerians..no answer for the cuniform eh or all the many predictions all over this planet that date back many thousands of years ago….all the evidence taken together makes a strong case for Earth Changes, even if you feel that PLanet X will not cause them..So Prepare anyway!!! The Conspiracy is in the theory, and there are a lot of those floating around…The best test will be time..only a few years now…

    Peac e and Love
    Jeremiah , Anthony and Sherri

  • Rob September 9, 2008, 12:50 AM

    Some comments here say ‘why would they contact us, look how we treat each other’. In order to get that kind of information, they would have to have came here; so it is not plausible assume that they would make that assessment.

    The idea of an interstellar WWW is an idea worth exploring. If they are transversing the stars or their galactic neighborhood, they would need a way to communicate with each other over the vastness of space.

    For those demanding a definite answer to ‘Are we alone’, it can not be answered right now. Will it? most definitely so. I, for one, am positive that there are others out there. I think of every star as a possibility for intelligent life or just some form of life. There are more stars in the universe then there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth. So the chances are high. Finding them is the trick.

    Space is vast, unimaginably large, one could say infinite. transversing those distances is not at all an easy task.

    As for Jeremiah , Anthony and Sherri and their 2012 nonsense, there is little to no truth in man made tales or prophecies. Ancient prophecies are just that, old tales that add up to nothing.

    Reason and logic will always trump fairy tales.

  • PsychicSEO October 26, 2008, 2:27 PM

    I wrote about an interstellar web as well – fascinating topic!