Game of Probes: The First Probe Sent to Another Civilization Won’t Be the First to Arrive

An artist's concept of Voyager 1's view of the Solar System. Voyager 1 is one of our first interstellar probes, though it's an inadvertent one. It has no particular destination. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Zachary and S. Redfield (Wesleyan University); Artist's Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

If we ever detect an Extraterrestrial Civilization (ETC) and start communicating with them, the messages could take years, decades, or even centuries to travel back and forth. We face a challenging 49-minute long delay just communicating with the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, and that’s well within our Solar System. Communicating with an ETC that’s hundreds of light-years away or even further is a daunting task.

It’s even worse if we’re sending probes.

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Gravitational Lenses Could Allow a Galaxy-Wide Internet

An early NASA concept of an interstellar space probe. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

As Carl Sagan once said, “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.” And our first emissaries to the stars will be robotic probes. These interstellar probes will be largely autonomous, but we will want to communicate with them. At the very least we will want them to phone home and tell us what they’ve discovered. The stars are distant, so the probes will need to make a very long-distance call.

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