• 23:19
  • 16.01.2021
We’ve just sent a mix tape to aliens
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We’ve just sent a mix tape to aliens

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GJ 273 — otherwise known as Luyten’s Star — is in for a surprise.
In 12.4 years (that’s how long it will take the signals to cross 838304 million kilometres to get there) they’ll be hit with some out-of-(their)-world beats.
If we’re lucky — very, very lucky — 12.4 years after that, we’ll get a reply.
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So make sure you tune in — at some point during 2042.
Between October 16 and 18, a team of astronomers at the Eiscat transmitter in the Norwegian city of Tromso lined-up the star — which has a “Super Earth” planet orbiting within its habitable zone — before pumping out 33 tunes, each just 10 seconds long.
It’s a sample tape of music, speech and maths. Embedded within its structure is a simple request: ‘please reply’.
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Its producers belong to a group called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) International, a team which splintered from the more well-known SETI, set up with the express intent of declaring our presence to the universe.
They repeated the exercise nine times over the three days, just to be sure it gets through.
It’s being beamed in a band of the radio spectrum where it is most likely to stand out.
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And the fact music uses complex mathematical patterns will make it obvious to any listener that the radio bursts are not natural.
It’s the first time a radio message announcing our presence has been beamed at any specific interstellar target. All others have simply blasted signals in directions with little more than a hope that there may be someone (or something) out there.
GJ 273b, however, is at least an address with the potential for sustaining life.
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It’s just one of hundreds of similar ‘Goldilocks’ worlds — where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain liquid water — discovered in recent years.
The choice was not an easy one. METI had to sift through dozens of candidates close enough for a radio signal to remain discernible while also appearing to have the best possible conditions to support life.
GJ 273b is a “Super Earth” orbiting a red dwarf star. This means it is somewhat bigger than our own planet, and is likely to have one face permanently facing its star — with the other perpetually in the cold dark of night.
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Life there is likely to be very different than down here.
So why music?
The Norwegian radio-telescope offering its rare — and expensive — time to the project wanted to initiate a cultural exchange. The Spanish Sonar music festival then leapt at the opportunity to compose a music-based greetings card.
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But it’s not being broadcast in the raw.
It’s been encoded in binary language in order for it to be carried intact over the immense distances of space. So any aliens will have to record the 125 pulses per second over two alternating frequencies before decoding them.
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But METI has made it as easy as possible to figure out the patterns, by introducing the transmission with a series of simple mathematical concepts that evolve into a tutorial in how to decode the later music and voice components.
“It’s designed for the SETI scientists of other worlds,” METI president Douglas Vakoch told cnet.com. “We sent the sort of signal we’d want to receive here on Earth.”
Another musical greeting will be transmitted in April next year.
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Either way, the chances of anything hearing the signal is a very long shot.
In fact, the odds are ... astronomical.

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