A plurality of Americans, according to a National Geographic poll, believes alien spaceships are buzzing the earth: 36% believe, 17% don’t, and the rest are unsure. I’ll not argue with democracy. However, unlike those discreet critters in their stealthy ships, who leave no definitive evidence even when they crash, and who preferentially reserve face-to-face meetings for drunken fishermen and troubled attention-seekers who will never be believed, earthlings scatter signs of their existence hither and yon while shouting out to the heavens on deep space radio transmitters, “Here we are!”
We haven’t gone very far, of course, but where we have gone we have strewn our junk all around. No fewer than four probes have crashed on Mars, for example: one Russian, one British, and two American. The fate of a fifth, the Russian lander Mars 6 launched in 1973, is unknown; it stopped transmitting while landing, but a radio failure doesn’t necessarily mean it crashed. Eight more craft have landed successfully, including three rovers, two of which are currently operational. Far from being coy about who sent all this stuff, we stuck on the
lander a DVD (next to the little flag in the picture below) containing the names
of a quarter million people along with scifi and artwork. I’m not sure if
Martian DVD players are in a compatible format, though. Phoenix
Four robotic spacecraft are currently nearing the heliopause, the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space: Pioneer 10 & 11 and Voyager 1 and 2. Voyager 1, faster than the earlier Pioneers, will get there first. Beyond the heliopause the solar wind and magnetic field no longer dominate the spatial environment. The two Pioneers stopped transmitting in 1995 and 2002. The two Voyagers remain in touch; their nuclear power sources should be good until 2020. All four of them contain information about ourselves for the edification of whomever might find them. Each Pioneer carries a plaque with etched info, while each Voyager carries a gold-plated copper DVD full of sounds and images of earth, plus musical selections. (The joke at the time of launch was that we would get a message back: “Send more Chuck Berry.”) It will be a long time before anybody finds them, if anyone ever does. Voyager 1 won’t pass another star (AC+79 3888 in the constellation Camelopardalis) for 40,000 years, and 1.6 light years isn’t a very close pass.
Not willing to wait 40,000 years, we send out intentional signals into space along with all the ones (e.g. defense radar and UHF TV) that we emit carelessly. I don’t know what the LGM (little green men) will make of them. This is what was sent from the Evapatoria Deep Space Antenna in
. Be honest, what can you make of these pages? And we both think like the
humans who designed them. If the LGM can (or would think to) reconstruct those
pages in the first place from the binary signal, and if they somehow can
translate them (which makes them way smarter than I), will they not think we are
a planet of crazed naked math tutors? This is the English translation for when
you have given up trying on your own: http://www.astrosurf.com/luxorion/Documents/seti-dutil-dumas.pdf
In a way, there is something charmingly child-like about all this: “Hey everyone! Look at me! Look at me!” Whether the LGM of the galaxy (if there are any) will agree is anyone’s guess.
DVD on Phoenix Lander
Voyager Recording: the etchings explain how to play it