Is there anybody out there? The Deep Space Communications Network antennae during the first transmission Image
Aliens will be glad to know that if ever they need to find an apartment here on Earth, someone has got them covered.
On March 11th at 6:30pm, a company called Deep Space Communications Network beamed the first commercial transmission of a website into space.
The message? Over one hundred thousand separate postings from craigslist.com, the popular community website that includes classified listings for jobs, housing and other goods. The transmission included a date and time stamp, as well as an audio track identifying the message as originating from Earth.
"It's very fitting that the first [commercial] transmission into space is by a community website like craiglist because it represents a wide cross section of society," said Jim Lewis, vice president of Deep Space Communications Network.
The company is an offshoot of Communications Concepts, Inc., a company based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, that produces live television coverage of shuttle launches. That same equipment is now being used to give the public a chance to send messages out to any intergalactic neighbors that might be listening in a service slated to become widely available within the next month.
Lewis told SPACE.com that the company is currently in talks with craigslist to broadcast another transmission on to coincide with the planned Discovery launch, NASA's first post-Columbia shuttle mission.
Commercial messages have long been transmitted into space, inadvertantly since the first radio and television signals were generated, but the Deep Space Communications Network joins a short list of intentional transmissions aimed at contacting someone--anyone--out in the Universe.
Another company, talktoaliens.com, offers a similar service but with an added twist: users can send a text message or they can dial a phone number and have their voices beamed live into space via a custom designed parabolic dish antenna dubbed the "Intergalactic Transmitter". The service has been available since March 7th, and the antenna is operational 24-hours a day.
Talktoaliens.com is operated by a small group of radio and broadcasts engineers who were part of the Civilian Space eXploration Team, or CSXT, a group that made news in May of last year when they successfully launched the first amateur rocket into space. The company is headed by Eric Knight, CSXT's former avionics manager.
Neither of the companies target specific stars or particular points in space for their transmissions. Deep Space Communications Network aims their antenna at coordinates where there are no known satellites, and they estimate that their transmissions will travel approximately 1-3 light years. Talktoaliens.com states that their antenna is designed to sweep through as much of the Milky Way Galaxy as possible.
The two services are the latest in a long tradition of radio CETI--or Communications with ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence--attempts. The first, known as the Arecibo Message, occurred in 1974 when two Cornell University scientists beamed an encoded radio message that included an image of a human figure and the structure of DNA toward the great globular cluster M13, 25,000 light years away.
In 1999 and 2003, a more elaborate set of messages known collectively as the Cosmic Call was sent out from a radio telescope in the Ukraine to nearby star systems deemed likely to harbor life. In 2001, another message, composed by Russian teens and called the Teenage Message to the Stars, was also transmitted from the Ukraine radio telescope.
Knight describes his company as a public service. "The goal is to give every citizen on planet earth who has access to phone or computer an equal opportunity to use this service," he said. "If you leave it to only a select few, it will end up being some sort of elite processed message."
Knight admits that the chances of an alien response are slim but said that it would be the ultimate reward. "It's the reason so many people are listening or talking into space and trying to establish dialogue with alien races."