High Strangeness: A Signal To Space

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Signal To Space

What if the first alien life forms we encounter use a vastly different mode of communication than we do? What if, say, we made contact with an alien race that could only communicate in bursts of 140 characters or less? What if the universe really turned out to be the twitterverse...?

You may think these are silly questions, but you'd be wrong. At least you would be according to The National Geographic Channel, which is about to launch a new summer TV series that promises to make the UFO phenomenon look more ridiculous than ever before.

"Chasing UFOs" is the new show, and it's an apt title, as you can bet that there will be a lot of "chasing" and not a whole lot of "catching." Because if the three supernaturally attractive hosts actually discovered anything, it would be a special, not a series, right?

Anyway, I give NatGeo's marketing people credit for coming up with a pretty clever gimmick with which to launch the show. They have announced an interactive, crowd-sourced something or other called "The WOW! Reply," in which ordinary people like you and me -- well, like you -- can submit tweets to a special account set up by National Geographic, to be sent out into space as a message of greeting to whatever alien civilizations might be listening. Apparently the message will be transmitted into space by the huge radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, pictured here:

That's me at Arecibo, circa 2001. Little did I know then that this massive radio telescope would someday play a part in a massive interactive intergalactic marketing campaign.
I'm a little fuzzy on how it works, but here's the deal: people will be able to write and send tweets (with the #ChasingUFOs hashtag) only on the night of July 29th, the night the show premieres, and the tweets will be held in cryogenic storage or something until mid-August, when they'll be thawed out and sent out into space as a "response" to The WOW! Signal, a short burst of seemingly meaningful information picked up from deep space by earthbound radio antennae back in 1977 and considered by some to be a signal from an alien civilization. Because taking 35 years to reply will really impress those aliens.

Especially when the reply consists of a deluge of nitwit tweets tapped out by hordes of people who you would never, ever, ever, under any circumstances want to be the first human being that aliens make contact with.

Anyway, National Geographic Channel seems determined to go through with it, so I suppose we should prepare for the worst.

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