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Professor reaches for stars, extraterrestrial contact

By Sean Havey / Correspondent
Published: 9/17/2004

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Do you think there is other intelligent life in outer space? Why haven't they contacted us? Are they waiting fir us to make the first move?

Well, a University professor is taking the initiative.

Two forms of life efficiently sending messages millions of miles apart can seem near impossible. Yet, the solution could be in a "message-in-a-bottle-type approach," said University Professor Christopher Rose. By launching into space a capsule containing written information on various media, the chances of it reaching its destination is improved.

Rose, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Gregory Wright, a physicist not affiliated with the University, co-wrote this analysis in an article titled, "Inscribed matter as an energy-efficient means of communication with an extraterrestrial civilization," which was published in the September issue of the magazine NATURE.

Rose said this message-in-a-bottle approach" is the most energy-efficient and quality-efficient way of interstellar communication. Typically used are radio waves, which disperse as they travel - making the signal fainter and fainter as it travels through space from its point of origin, increasing the odds of distortion by radiation.

Stemming from work done at the University's Wireless Information Networks Laboratory on Busch campus, Rose said he fell backward into the problem of energy-efficient communications while worrying about improving wireless communication.

Through this work, Rose said he realized inscribed information could also be an excellent way to efficiently communicate with lots of data rather than attempting to send the information wirelessly to extraterrestrials.

To see whether electromagnetically sending information - typically through radio waves - is superior to inscribing material, Rose said the two methods' respective "energy budget" must be compared. He defined energy budget as the amount of energy each method uses to transport the same amount of information.

"The energy necessary to send such [inscribed] messages really is so much lower, it makes sense from an engineering perspective," Rose said.

The exact message to be sent to extraterrestrials would all depend on the intentions, he said.

"You could send a 'return address,' where to call back and how. You could send biological material," Rose said.

The Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft both sent into space in the 1970s used plaques inscribed with various sorts of information, Rose said.

Regardless of ways to send messages, he said the ultimate goal - the one in which he is most interested - is to find an extraterrestrial message.

"Are we alone in the universe? Finding evidence that we're not would arguably be the most important discovery of civilization ever," Rose said.

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