Communicating Via the Cepheid Galactic Internet

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

New Radio Telescope to Help SETI Scan Unexplored Frequencies for Extraterrestrials

Since the 1960’s astronomers have been scanning the heavens, searching for radio signals beamed towards the vicinity of Earth by other intelligent beings. But so far, no ET signals have been found. However, no radio telescope has been able to search the very low frequency radio spectrum, which could possibly include “leakage” of extraterrestrial “everyday” signals that a distant civilization might emit, such as television and radio signals. But a new radio telescope called LOFAR (the Low Frequency Array), will have that ability. Currently being built by ASTRON, (the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy), LOFAR consists of about 25,000 small antennas that will receive signals from space, and offers the ability to search these low-frequency type of radio waves.

According to Professor Michael Garrett, General Director of ASTRON, LOFAR is well suited to SETI research. “LOFAR can extend the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence to an entirely unexplored part of the low-frequency radio spectrum, an area that is heavily used for civil and military communications here on Earth. In addition, LOFAR can survey large areas of the sky simultaneously – an important advantage if SETI signals are rare or transient in nature.”

Astronomers believe of the approximately 100 thousand million stars in the galaxy, most of these have planetary systems. Some of these planets might actually be suitable for life and many scientists believe that life is probably wide-spread across the galaxy. However, technically advanced civilizations might be relatively rare or at least widely separated from each other.

Despite the huge distances between stars, the next generation of radio telescopes, such as LOFAR, begin to offer the possibility of detecting radio signals associated with extraterrestrial radio and TV transmitters.

Dan Werthimer, a SETI@home project Scientist at the University of Berkeley said, “SETI searches are still only scratching the surface, we need to use as many different telescopes, techniques and strategies as possible, in order to maximize our chances of success.”

Professor Garrett thinks it is high time European scientists began to support their colleagues from the United States in this exciting area of research. “I cannot think of a more important question humanity can ask and perhaps now answer. Are we truly alone in the Universe or are there other civilizations out there waiting to be discovered? Either way, the implications are tremendous.”

LOFAR will begin its scans of low frequency radio waves when the array is completed in 2009.

Original News Source: ASTRON

Doritos In Space

I’m all for the commercial use of space, but this might be a bit overboard. Back in March of this year, Ian reported on a fund raising scheme to help the United Kingdom’s physics and astronomy money woes. The scheme involved soliciting commercial companies to pay for advertising being beamed into space, supposedly directed towards potential extra terrestrial life. The manufacturer of Doritos snack chips stepped up, donating an undisclosed sum in exchange for transmitting their ad. But the Doritos people decided to turn the advertisement into a contest, and created the Doritos Broadcast Project, which invited the UK public to create a 30 second video clip that could be beamed out to the universe offering a snap shot of life on earth to anyone ‘out there’. According to a poll, 61% of the UK public believe this is just the start of communication with ET life and that we will enter into regular communication with an alien species at some stage in the future. See the winning commercial:

The winning space-ad entitled ‘Tribe’ was voted for by the British public and directed by 25-year-old Matt Bowron. It will officially be entered into the Guinness Book of Records and will be aired on the more conventional medium of television in the UK on Sunday, June 15th.

Does this really offer a “snapshot of life on Earth?” Is this the impression of ourselves we’d like to give to extraterrestrials?

The message is being pulsed out over a six-hour period from high-powered radars at the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle. The University of Leicester has also been involved in the project from its inception.

EISCAT Director, Professor Tony van Eyken who will oversee the transmission said: “The signal is directed at a solar system just 42 light years away from Earth, in the ‘Ursa Major’ or Great Bear Constellation. Its star is very similar to our Sun and hosts a habitable zone that could harbor small life supporting planets similar to ours.”

Peter Charles, Head of the Doritos Broadcast Project said: “We are constantly looking to push the boundaries of advertising and this will go further than any brand has gone before. By broadcasting the winning ad to the Universe, Doritos is delivering a world first and Matt Bowron, the winner, will go down in advertising folklore. We also shouldn’t be too surprised if the first aliens start arriving on planet Earth immediately demanding a bag of Doritos.”


Dr Nigel Bannister thinks the idea might stimulate extra public interest. “The idea of transmitting an ad into space is somewhat controversial but still of scientific interest,” he said.

“This could be a test for future very long range communications and it gives us an opportunity to tell the Universe we are here (in case someone out there is listening – like reversal of the SETI programme!).

“There could also be potential commercial interest in enterprises like this. Imagine one day that companies on Earth might wish to advertise to other planetary colonies within our solar system -for example if man ever moves to colonise Mars!”

Source: Space Daily

If ET Calls, Would We Be Told?

SETI's Alien Telescope Array (ATA) listens day and night for a signal from space. Credit: SETI

If a verified message from aliens is ever received, would the public be told about it? SETI — the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence – does have an international protocol that if an alien signal is ever received, it would be disseminated among the astronomical community and made public. And of course, says Mac Tonnies at the SETI Blog, “international cooperation might be necessary in order to distinguish a legitimate alien signal from any number of phenomena capable of generating false alarms.” But what if the signal is more than just extra-terrestrials saying hello? Tonnies believes SETI’s plans for full disclosure only makes sense if the message is fairly benign. If the signal was a notice of impending doom from a black hole, supernova, or alien invasion –something we on Earth had little power to do anything about — Tonnies questions whether governments would choose to make such information public. But could something of this magnitude really be kept under wraps?

Frankly, I hadn’t really considered this scenario. When I think about SETI and the possibility of communication with an alien species, I envision, perhaps naively, what Tonnies calls the “lofty, abstract dialogue immortalized by Carl Sagan.” But of course, we have no idea of what any alien intelligence would like to say to us. If it was bad news, would governments of the world elect to withhold the information from the public?

Intrigued by Tonnies’ blog post, I contacted him to ask that question.

“I think it’s a very real possibility that generally goes unspoken,” said Tonnies, an author, essayist and blogger. “In the event of a bona fide signal, the public may only be made privy to part of it. It depends on the content and context of the message.”

Tonnies questions whether governments would elect to gamble with their respective economies and socio-political agendas for the sake of imparting knowledge that might only cause mayhem.

But wouldn’t governments want the people of the world to know so that intellectual resources could be pooled to try to find a solution to the problem? And what about the concept of an alien message bringing the world together?

“I think uniting the people of the world is the last thing governments want,” said Tonnies. “A rush to counter some cosmic threat is likely to have a war-time character, at least among scientists. And this is assuming that the threat we’re being warned about is something that can be acted upon with the technology available to us. If we happen across a generic warning, there’s no promise we’ll have the savvy to do anything about it given our level of development. If that’s the case, why would we expect prompt disclosure?”

Logically, however, it seems unlikely that aliens would call just to tell us we’re doomed. “It’s pretty foolish to expect aliens to conform to our definition of altruism — although I’m drawn to the idea of a ‘Galactic Emergency Broadcast System,'” said Tonnies. “Maybe ETs feel compelled to give less advanced civilizations a “heads up” in the event on some interstellar crisis because we might make for meaningful companionship a few million years from now.”

Maybe I’ve watched too many movies, but I’m still doubtful that an alien message, whether good news or bad, could be withheld from public knowledge. It would be too big, too transformational, too altering an experience not to be shared.

Original News Source: SETI BLog

Is Our Universe Ruled by Artificial Intelligence?


Science fiction is filled with unusual alien species. But apart from the occasional robot, biological life is running the show. But NASA scientist, Dr. Steven Dick, sees a future Universe that has evolved past biology. Where every intelligence is artificial. Consider the likelihood of a postbiological Universe.

Does intelligent life exist beyond Earth? It’s easily the most profound and challenging question that humans have ever asked. The consequences of discovering other intelligent life would ripple through every aspect of human society, and actually meeting another species would be even more challenging.

But are there abundant intelligent life forms out there? Or is the biological life on Earth just a stage? Just a single step towards our inevitable technological existence.

In a recent paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica, entitled The Post Biological Universe, Dr. Steven Dick notes how every search for extraterrestrial intelligence assumes that life will be biological. And yet, here on Earth we can see that intelligent life develops more and more sophisticated tools over time. And these tools will eventually lead to artificial intelligence that outstrips its makers.

If extraterrestrials are out there, they likely live in much older civilizations than ours, and have already transitioned through biology and into technology. The majority of worlds out there are already postbiological.

According to many scientists, it’s easy for civilizations to be older than us. The first metal rich stars with terrestrial planets could have formed a billion years after the Big Bang – 12.5 billion years ago. If intelligent life took another 5 billion years to evolve, just like it did here on Earth, that still means life could have been around for 7.5 billion years.

Plenty of time to evolve into intelligent life, and then transition into artificial intelligence.

Cultural advancement also seems to be an inevitable consequence of evolution. Not just humans, but many animals, such as chimpanzees have demonstrated that technology can be developed, improved and passed down from generation to generation.

Here’s a quote from the paper,

Hans Moravec, a highly respected AI pioneer and robotic expert at Carnegie-Mellon, predicted “What awaits is not oblivion but rather a future which, from our present vantage point, is best described by the words ‘postbiological’ or even ‘supernatural’. It is a world in which the human race has been swept away by the tide of cultural change, usurped by its own artificial progeny.” Our machines, Moravec predicted, will eventually transcend us, and be “released from the plodding pace of biological evolution.”

How could this change the search for extraterrestrials? Well, when you’re looking for robots, you can look anywhere. Dr. Dick suggests that the SETI community consider the environmental tolerance of robots and the availability of resources beyond planets. AI will be looking for places that provide the most raw material and energy – think quasars, not habitable planets.

Postbiologicals probably have no interesting talking with us regular biologicals. But it might be possible for us to intercept their communications if we know what we’re looking for.

He also thinks that postbiologicals might be more interested in receiving our communications, that talking to us. We should consider very special messages that we might want to send out to the AI civilizations.

Of course, the difference between our minds and theirs might be so great that communication is impossible.

But it doesn’t hurt to try.

Original Source: Acta Astronautica

Making the Best First Impression, with Aliens


Did you know the SETI Institute has a Director of Interstellar Message Composition? I did not know that. I guess it makes sense. If we’re going to be communicating with aliens, we’ll want to be careful about the words we choose. Get it right, and we’ve got extraterrestrial friends, here to uplift us to the galactic community. Get it wrong and we might be looking at radio silence, or worse…

So how should we present ourselves to prospective galactic neighbours?

Douglas Vakoch, the aforementioned Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute has done some thinking about this, and recently wrote it up in an article entitled, How we Present Ourselves to Aliens.

The trick, of course, is to make a good first impression. When the aliens finally receive our first communications, we want them to be wowed. But should we hide our more violent tendencies, or is the best strategy to just be honest. Sure, we fight a few wars here and there, but that’s just a phase we’re working through.

Vakoch thinks that honesty is the best policy. Sure we’re flawed, but what member of the Milky Way club didn’t ravage society with constant warfare and nearly destroy their environment before they reached perfection?

The aliens might be touched at our honestly, recalling their own struggle to get to a stable, peaceful society. Or they might just send in the berserkers to wipe the violent apes off the planet.

And how should we communicate? Could we just transmit CAT-scans of the human body, demonstrating both our physique and level of technology. Or should the mathematicians do our talking for us, communicating in terms of pi until we’ve a mutual mathematical appreciation happening. Do we send our beautiful music, hoping their like it? But what if they hate it?

Whatever we say, and however we say it, that first impression is everything.

So let me know. What would you say, and how would you say it? And if the aliens actually replied, what would we do then?

Original Source: SETI Institute

The Ultimate Fund-Raising Scheme: Transmit Adverts To Aliens


OK, so there have been some strange things going on between us Earthlings and aliens lately. The deep-space Pioneer and Voyager probes carried images and artefacts of our culture into the cosmos decades ago. This plan has now been upstaged by the Deep Space Network transmitting a Beatles tune in the direction of the star Polaris. Both are different methods in an attempt to achieve the same thing – to contact alien civilizations. Extraterrestrials might even be trying to communicate with us by playing around with stars or blasting neutrinos at us

But, in the next episode of this epic saga, as the human race feels more and more alone in a seemingly lifeless, but expanding universe… [breakthis programme will be continued after a message from our sponsors]

Advertising is everywhere. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and in many forms. I just deleted four pieces of spam in my email account (one trying to sell me non-prescription pain killers, one notifying me that I have won the Russian lotto and another two with subjects I’d rather not repeat), I can hear an ad on the radio chatter (something about double-glazed windows), on my desk I can count ten magazine ads, newspaper classified ads, business cards and logos, all set out to do pretty much the same thing: to sell a product and, ultimately, to make money. Advertising is so embedded into our commercial society, it can be difficult to work out what is advertising and what isn’t.

Now it seems there is another kind of advertising on the horizon: Space Spam.

As UK physics and astronomy researchers have experienced recently, the problem with scientific research is that it mainly depends on government funding. Government funding comes and goes and can depend on who is in power and who isn’t. To avoid this, many researchers leave academia in search of better pay in industry. There is nothing wrong with this choice, but often academic institutions and universities lose their top minds to better financial conditions elsewhere.

In an attempt to save the beleaguered astronomy community in the UK, astronomers have come up with an intriguing idea. To rescue the world famous Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, astronomers intend to transmit adverts into space. This is truly the final frontier for terrestrial advertising, but is it possible that British scientists have finally lost their marbles? How can we expect alien races to pay attention to our attempts at selling them Nacho Cheese Doritos? If they did buy our products, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of the shipping department…

But there is a very serious reason for this off-beat plan. The UK is currently undergoing a funding crisis as the main funding body for UK physics and astronomy struggles to fill a £80 million ($160 million) hole in their finances. No help has been offered by the British government. This new fund-raising scheme is already attracting a lot of attention. The snack manufacturer Doritos has stepped in, donating an undisclosed sum in exchange for transmitting their ad. Many more companies are expected to follow suit. The publicity from helping out struggling observatories seems to be enough for big companies wanting to get involved (after all, they won’t be expecting extraterrestrial orders for at least 84 years).
The incoherent scatter radar facility (EISCAT) on Svalbard in 2002 (credit: Ian O'Neill)
The signal will be sent to the Ursa Major constellation some 42 light years away by the European Incoherent Scatter Radar System (EISCAT) in Svalbard, located in the High Arctic. EISCAT is more commonly used to measure emissions from the aurora and ionospheric dynamics. It can also be used in conjunction with other EISCAT installations in Sweden and mainland Norway to track the velocity and composition of the solar wind. Now, it seems, the powerful radar transmitter will be used to shoot commercials into space.

The first transmission will be 30 seconds long and members of the public will be invited to participate. TV advertising will also be aired in support of the project. If anyone thought UK researchers were going to stay quiet and accept the latest round of financial turmoil, they’d be wrong. Scientists and the public, backed up by advertising revenue, are about to make a very big noise.

If the Beatles tune didn’t agitate the aliens, an enforced ad break probably will, let’s just hope they are sympathetic to the UK funding crisis (and want to make a donation).

Source:, Jodrell Bank Observatory press release

Aliens Might Be Moving Stars to Communicate With Us


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

Are we sending a bit too much information into the cosmos?


On Monday (February 4, 7 pm EST) NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) sent a transmission toward the North Star, Polaris. The transmission sent was the song “Across the Universe” by the Beatles intended for any sufficiently advanced extra terrestrial life to listen to. Although this is a nice gesture and may nurture Beatles fans beyond our solar system, some scientists have expressed concerns for advertising our planet’s location to the universe, just in case the aliens listening in aren’t that friendly after all…

Scientists attending the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) “Sound of Silence” meeting at Arizona State University in Tempe this week are worried. Their concern focuses on some aspects of the scientific community who want to advertise and educate sufficiently advanced lifeforms beyond Earth about our presence and location in the cosmos. Previous efforts have included information about our biology on the Voyager and Pioneer probes, and a broadcast by the Arecibo observatory in 1974. These attempts at communication plus accidental “leakage” of TV and radio signals can all travel vast distances through space and perhaps be received by aliens.

The main argument against trying to communicate with other civilizations is the possibility that if there are aliens out there listening in, then perhaps they might not be friendly. By giving away our location, critical facts about our society, biology and intelligence, we have already given possible alien aggressors a strategic advantage. This threat is obviously very far-fetched, but sending information about our current state of humanity will be inaccurate when signals are received in hundreds, thousands or millions of year’s time, perhaps putting our future generations in a negative light.

Before sending out even symbolic messages, we need an open discussion about the potential risks […] It’s very charitable to send out our encyclopedia, but that may short-change future generations.” – Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California.

Vakoch is not concerned that we are risking an alien invasion any time soon, but does highlight the need to discuss the implications of attempted extra-terrestrial communication in an open scientific forum before acting.

If there are any advanced alien beings out there however, they are keeping very quiet. The purpose of the “Sound of Silence” meeting is to discuss why the SETI project has, thus far, not found anything compelling to suggest there are any life forms transmitting their presence to the universe.

Have we been looking in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong way?” asks Prof Paul Davies of Arizona State University. “The purpose of this meeting is to brainstorm some radically new thinking on the subject.


SETI@home Needs You!


If your New Year’s resolutions include trying something new, expanding your horizons, or doing something to benefit humanity, this is for you: SETI@home needs more volunteers to help crunch data in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). And the easy part is that your desktop computer does all the work.

SETI uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow band-width radio signals from space. Since these signals don’t occur naturally, a detection of such a signal would indicate technology from an extraterrestrial source.

The SETI project at the University of California-Berkley gets data from world’s largest radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which has recently been updated with seven new and more sensitive receivers. The improved frequency coverage for the telescope is now generating 500 times more data for the SETI project than before, and more volunteers are needed to handle the increase in data.

According to project scientist Eric Korpela, the new data amounts to 300 gigabytes per day, or 100 terabytes (100,000 gigabytes) per year, about the amount of data stored in the U.S. Library of Congress. “That’s why we need all the volunteers,” he said. “Everyone has a chance to be part of the largest public participation science project in history.”

The SETI@home premise is simple but brilliant: Instead of using a monstrously huge and expensive supercomputer to analyze all the data, it uses lots of small computers, all working simultaneously on different parts of the analysis. Participants download a special screensaver for their home computers, and when the computer is idle, the screensaver kicks in to grab data from UC Berkley, analyze the data and send back a report. SETI@home was launched in May of 1999.

The SETI@home software has now been upgraded to deal with all the new data generated by the updated Arecibo telescope. The telescope can now record radio signals from seven regions of the sky simultaneously instead of just one. It also has greater sensitivity and 40 times more frequency coverage.

So, if the phrase “to search out new life and new civilizations” inspires you, her’s your chance to be part of the largest community of dedicated users of any internet computing project. Currently SETI@home has 170,000 individuals donating time on 320,000 computers.

“Earthlings are just getting started looking at the frequencies in the sky; we’re looking only at the cosmically brightest sources, hoping we are scanning the right radio channels,” said project chief scientist Dan Werthimer. “The good news is, we’re entering an era when we will be able to scan billions of channels. Arecibo is now optimized for this kind of search, so if there are signals out there, we or our volunteers will find them.”

Check out SETI@home here.
Original News Source: UC Berkley Press Release