There's a serious debate over whether or not humans should send messages into space.
Intellectual minds like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned that doing so could lead to an alien invasion and the annihilation of the human race. Other experts strongly disagree.
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Regardless of these ethical quandaries, the human race is about to send one of its most elaborate messages yet into space.
This fall, a collaboration led by the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, and the United Kingdom Astronomical Technology Center will send a string of text messages into space that all answer the same, simple question:
"How will our present environmental interactions shape the future?"
Appropriately, the collaboration calls this cultural experiment "A Simple Response to an Elemental Message." By submitting a response, "participants will be contributing to ongoing dialogue concerning how our civilization collectively perceives its role within shaping the future of the environment," collaboration leaders describe on the project's website.
When it comes time to transmit, the collaboration will convert the responses into radio waves, and then fire them toward the North Star, Polaris — located 434 light years away, which means it will take that long for the message to reach its destination.
While humans have transmitted radio signals into space before, this is one of the most elaborate projects to date, at least according to psychologist Douglas Vakoch, who is the president of an organization that advocates deliberate attempts to make contact, called METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and is not part of the collaboration.
"'While it might be confusing for an alien to understand a stream of text messages that switches between Portuguese, Arabic, Mandarin, and a handful of other languages, for the Earth-based participant, it's a significant advance over past projects that relied on English-only messages," Vakoch told Business Insider.
Why transmit to Polaris?
20th Century FoxPolaris was once a key reference point for navigators like Ferdinand Magellan and it still guides star gazers today.
Therefore it holds a nostalgic and cultural appeal for humanity, according to project coordinator and graduate arts students at the University of Edinburgh, Paul Quast.
In fact, this isn't the first time that humans have transmitted radio signals toward Polaris:
"In 2008, NASA celebrated is fiftieth anniversary by broadcasting the song 'Across the Universe,' targeting the same star," Vakoch said. "Any aliens hearing 'A Simple Response' will have listened to the Beatles just eight years earlier."
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Vakoch recently led a similar collaboration called "Earth Speaks," which asked people from around the world to submit messages, photos, and sounds that they would want to send to an extraterrestrial civilization. There are no plans, as of right now, to send those messages into space, Vakoch said.
Interestingly, Vakoch's project and "A Simple Response" have something in common:
"One of the strongest themes we see in 'Earth Speaks' is a concern with our current environmental crisis," he said. "In answering the question 'How will our present environmental interactions shape the future?' we need to reflect on what it will take to sustain Earth's civilization in the coming centuries. That can only be a good thing."
You can learn more about "A Simple Response" and even submit your own answers by clicking here.