Social networking in outer space

July 30th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, July 30 (IANS) Get yourself a Bebo account right away if you want to send a message to outer space. An interstellar radio telescope normally used to detect asteroids that could hit Earth is being taken off duty Oct 9 to transmit messages from Bebo users into space.

The messages are expected to reach a recently discovered planet in 2029. They will be sent from a telescope of the Russian National Space Agency in Ukraine.

Users can send in messages from Aug 4 to Sep 30, and then the top 500 text and picture messages, as voted by Bebo users, will be transmitted into space on Oct 9.

Bebo is a popular social networking website founded by an American couple in 2005 and now owned by AOL. It is most popular with bands and solo artists who create profiles to upload their music, and authors who upload chapters of their books.

The project, named A Message From Earth, involves Bebo and RDF Digital, a British independent television production firm, apart from a top scientist, Alexander Zaitsev, according to a report in the digital content blog of The Guardian.

Zaitsev is an inter-stellar radar specialist of world repute. He is the chief scientist at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics.

What is the realistic expectation that these messages will ever be read by someone somewhere out there?

Zaitsev says: “Whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is one of the greatest unanswered questions. Over the last few years scientists have made a number of discoveries that significantly increase its likelihood, namely that we’ve been able to detect exoplanets orbiting other stars (over 200 to date).”

According to him, the target planet for a message from Earth, called Gliese 581c, was the first that was discovered at the edge of the habitable zone, which is essentially where the temperature is right for liquid water on its surface, thus potentially capable of supporting life as we know it.

The chances of there also being intelligent life, and a civilisation that is at least as advanced as the human race, are obviously smaller.

Zaitsev says: “The message will reach Gliese 581c in 20.5 years time (2029), and the radar wave will continue past it to deep space, with it being feasibly detectable up to 100 light years away.”

Will inter-stellar social networking be the new craze? “It will be really exciting to see what young people want to send to space to represent them as a snapshot of humanity and our planet,” Zaitsev says.

“I understand that in the majority of cases these messages may be naive, but I also hope that we will receive a creative and fresh look at the subject from young people.”

Bebo’s vice-president sales Mark Charkin is quoted by the New Media Age website as saying that it is a move to “re-connect science and the wider universe in a fun and immersive way”.

RDF Digital’s creative director Zad Rogers says the tie-up with Bebo will create an “online environment where the idea should spread like wildfire”.

But the project is criticised on another website, Register, which says “there are many in the space community who consider all such methods highly unwise…and who question the right of Zaitsev to speak alone for the entire human race”.

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