After 37 years of broadcasting assorted human garbage to the universe at large, scientists are working on a protocol to insure future messages to extraterrestrial intelligences are more efficient and well-received. Can't we just use Twitter?
The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico broadcast its first messages into space in 1974, beaming a stream of binary code at globular star cluster M13 some 25,000 light years away. That message contained encoded information about human DNA, our solar system, and the telescope itself. Any alien intercepting this message would have likely been bored to tears, changing course towards a more interesting planet.
Since then we've been sending all sorts of cultural crap into space. Pictures, sound bites, bits of music; the interstellar equivalent of pop-up ads. Ads that alien beings might not even be able to see or hear, depending on whatever passes for sensory organs in their culture.
The messages have also been rather anthropocentric, featuring humans and our culture prominently. Aliens must think we're so full of ourselves.
Now a team of scientists consisting of Dimitra Atri from the University of Kansas, Julia DeMarines from the International Space University in France, and Jacob Haqq-Misra from Pennsylvania State University are proposing that future attempts at messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence (METI) follow a strict set of protocols in order to reach the broadest possible audience without offending anyone enough to come and destroy us.
These protocols would measure potential METI broadcasts against a broad range of factors, including signal encoding, message length, information content, anthropocentrism, transmission method, and transmission periodicity. The researchers believe that short messages based on a simple physical or mathematical language will work the best, and we should try not to talk about ourselves too much. That's such a turn off.
The team is releasing their findings in a study to be published in a future issue of Space Policy. I did not know such a publication existed. That's okay, neither did James. T. Kirk, and he did pretty well for himself.
Once the scientists come up with a workable protocol, the entire human race will become their guinea pigs. The plan is to establish an internet website where normal folks can receive and attempt to decipher sample METI broadcasts, as well as suggesting their own messages and protocol tweaks. Dimitra Atri says it'll be one very large community effort.
"Anyone with internet access will be able to suggest his/her own message within the protocol guidelines based on scientific principles. We are also open to suggestions from both the scientific community and the general public for improvements in the protocol. It will be a community effort."
Based on previous community efforts based on establishing new forms of communication, I'd say we're pretty much doomed either way.
Scientists suggest protocol for messaging to aliens [Physorg.com]