10 March 2008

Brits Invite ET Over For Corn Chips

by Kate Melville

Snack food company Doritos is sponsoring a competition in the UK to beam a user-created advertisement (using a 2-billion watt transmitter) at the 47 Ursae Majoris solar system 42 light years away from Earth. Entrants have to shoot a 30-second ad about what they perceive life on earth to be. On the 12th June, the space-bound ad will be broadcast from a 500MHz Ultra High Frequency Radar from the EISCAT Space Centre in Svalbard, which lies in the Arctic Ocean about midway between northern Norway and the North Pole.

The transmission is being directed at 47 Ursae Majoris, located in the Great Bear Constellation (also known as "The Plough"). It is very similar to our Sun and is believed to host a habitable zone that could potentially harbor small terrestrial planets and support life as we know it.

The advert will be binary encoded and broken into sections. Each of the pulses will be numbered so that any intelligent life on recipient planets can mathematically reassemble them. This makes the signal easy to recover, even when weakened by the great distance to its planned destination.

The project is being undertaken in association with scientists from the University of Leicester and is also being supported by EISCAT (The European Incoherent SCATter Scientific Association), which studies solar-planetary interactions and operate a series of radar systems, including the Svalbard transmitter.

"Broadcasting an advert extra-terrestrially is a big and exciting step for everyone on Earth as up until now we only tend to listen for incoming transmissions. There have been reports that NASA beamed a Beatles song towards the Polaris star system, though as this is a 1,000 light year round trip, it's highly unlikely it will ever be received by extra-terrestrials. With the transmission technology and planning we are employing there is a much greater chance that the Doritos advert will potentially be seen by any alien life form," pitched Professor Tony van Eyken, Director of EISCAT.

Dr Darren Wright, Lecturer in the Radio and Space Plasma Physics Group at the University of Leicester explained how the university's involvement came about. "We were asked to comment on the feasibility of transmitting a TV advert into space and were able to suggest that one of the radar facilities available to the UK solar-terrestrial physics community, EISCAT would be an ideal tool to do this since it can transmit binary images, has a very high effective radiated power and a narrow beam width of only 0.5 degrees. The idea of transmitting an ad into space is somewhat controversial but still of scientific interest. This could be a test for future very long range communications and it gives us an opportunity to tell the Universe we are here," he said.

Details of the comp
We Come In Peace - NOT!
Sexing Up UFOs
Pulsars: What Are We Missing?
It's Life Jim, But How Do We Know It?

Source: University of Leicester