Scientists propose framework for ‘brilliant’ civilizations to beam messages to Earth

A new framework that would allow for more intelligent life to be found and potentially communicate with Earthlings has been proposed by NASA scientists.

Sean O’Keefe, an astronomer at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and others outlined the idea for the Interplanetary Communication Initiative in a letter published Thursday in the journal Science. O’Keefe and his co-authors describe the idea as a framework that would carry advanced societies from planet to planet and work with nearby civilizations to allow for advances in technology to be exchanged with Earth.

“Interplanetary communication is like sending a radio signal into outer space with a listening post on Earth,” O’Keefe said. “We’re going to drop a little transmission on the sun and see if there’s any trace of it.”

A huge effort was used to characterize communication frequencies from previous missions, called KAL007, and discovered that some of those frequencies are much too weak for humans to communicate with one another, but some can pass between spacecraft and even between different galaxies, according to the scientists’ analysis. Another level of signal could be sent through warp-drive systems, and more current technology might be used for long-distance broadcasts.

According to O’Keefe, it would be up to alien civilizations to send out signals that could fool our instruments. Another way that civilizations could interact with us would be to show us images. If humans were somehow able to return to a precursor civilization on Earth, the first video would show a primitive civilization building a starship out of metal. Their first step would be to send the video to us so it would appear we were sending back a picture.

“It’s really like spotting an icon on the moon that would explain how we got there,” he said.

The proposals would only be triggered when the light and light pressure from a billion Earths were able to overwhelm the light pollution around a one-meter-wide planet orbiting a star like our sun. They wouldn’t necessarily require interactions with other civilizations—the idea is that Earthlings could communicate with more advanced civilizations without visiting them.

“I don’t know if this approach to interplanetary communication could ever be done, but I think it’s a good idea. [It’s] something we should consider at least,” said Li-Hua Guo, a philosophy professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, who was not involved in the study.

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