16Nov2019

Hello From Earth: The Story Of Australia’s First Interstellar Message

What would you say to an alien civilisation far, far away? “Greetings from a girl on Earth who, every so often, looks up at the night sky and waves hello in the hope that someone on another planet is doing the same.”

Students from Karalundi College in WA at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (Supplied: Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex)

This message from Sophie of Longmont, Colorado, in the United States, is just one of almost 26,000 sent from Australia to an Earth-like planet 20 light-years away. It’s been a decade since NASA transmitted these goodwill messages, and this week the transmission passed the halfway mark on its long, lonely journey through the silent cosmos.

The project, called Hello from Earth, began as a science communication campaign to get people excited about Australia’s National Science Week. Those of us running the annual 10-day event were looking for an idea that would create a buzz on social media.

We decided on a kind of “Twitter to the stars”. We would collect short messages from the public and transmit them to the nearest habitable planet beyond our solar system. Each message would be short, later packaged into a single transmission and sent using one of NASA’s facilities.

Our target was Gliese 581d, a “super-Earth” orbiting the habitable zone of its parent star. First detected in 2007, studies in 2009 suggested it could have large oceans. And since it was 20.4 light-years away, it would help give people a real appreciation of just how big the universe is.

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