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Tips for Students: Messaging Extraterrestrials

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Summary

Thanks to the Kepler Telescope, we now know that there are many Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Some of them are even called Super-Habitable Earths – meaning that the conditions on those planets may be more suitable for life than here on Earth, believe it or not. What is the possibility that there are other intelligent civilizations in our Universe, then? And if there are any, could we communicate with them?

Lots of astrobiologists are thinking about these problems. A while ago, astronomer Frank Drake suggested an equation to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations, now known as Drake equation. SETI Institute is searching for signals from intelligent space creatures. And METI foundation is trying to figure out the best ways to message them.

One of the first attempts to message extraterrestrials was the Golden Record sent onboard NASA Voyager space probes in 1977. The images and recordings for the Golden Record were selected by the committee chaired by Carl Sagan. However, looking back we realize that those selections may not be the optimal way to represent humanity and Earth. The images are very human-centered, not representative of our planet and its biosphere. Lots of modern technology is lacking. It is also not realistic to expect the extraterrestrials to process light, sound, and smell the same way we do. So, what is the most important to us? Who are “we”? How do we expect to change in the future? And what would be the best way to craft the next message to the extraterrestrials?

Additional Questions to Consider to Explore This Topic

  • “The public has a distorted view of science because children are taught in school that science is a collection of firmly established truths. In fact, science is not a collection of truths. It is a continuing exploration of mysteries.”― Freeman John Dyson, physicist and astronomer
  • What do we know about what the Universe is made of? What do we know about the origin of life? What do we know about the origin of intelligence? – not much
  • Can we consider ourselves an advanced civilization – or are we still a newborn one?
  • How many civilizations can we expect in our Galaxy? What does the Drake equation say about it? What kind of assumptions do we make when we are using the equation?
  • How many planets are there in the universe? What percentage of them are Earth-type planets?
  • Can you decipher the cover of the Golden Record ( without googling)?
  • What are some ways to perceive the world that are different from ours?
  • How could planetary conditions affect the ways of information collection and processing?
  • Could other civilizations consider us a disease?
  • Who are we?
  • What are the three stages of life, according to Max Tegmark? How will humans change with time?
  • How would YOU craft a message to extraterrestrials?

Additional Resources

If you loved the discussion, you can dive deeper by researching SETI and METI sites and reading up on astrobiology.  Visit the NASA Voyager Golden Record site.  Remember that the Breakthrough Message Initiative is open to everyone. Check out the free webinars Youtube Videos  offered by Art of Inquiry.

Authored by: Julia Brodsky, Founder of Art of Inquiry – Online Science School for Young Explorers
Bio: Julia Brodsky is a STEM education researcher at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, and a former NASA astronaut instructor. She also writes for Forbes Education. Besides, Julia is a math education book author, educational consultant for gifted students and homeschooling mom. Julia’s academic training is in astrophysics and science education. As the founder of the Art of Inquiry ( www.artofinquiry.net) – an interactive online science program for curious pre-teens – Julia introduces students to space exploration, astrobiology, and AI as means for developing their scientific reasoning, systems thinking, and questioning skills.

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