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How will we get our message across to E.T.?

Beaming signals to GJ273 b
Astronomers and artists sent a binary-coded radio transmission in the direction of an extrasolar planet known as GJ273 b in 2017. (METI International Illustration / Danielle Futselaar)

LOS ANGELES — Last year, scientists sent a binary-coded message telling the aliens what time it was. Next year, it’ll be the periodic table of the elements. And someday, they hope to transmit a universal language that even extraterrestrials might relate to.

“I think we should treat this as a multigenerational, true experiment as opposed to an observational exercise, like archaeology,” said Doug Vakoch, a veteran of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence who is now president of METI International.

Vakoch and other researchers, including linguists, gathered here this weekend at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference to consider the content for future messages to E.T.

In the process, they considered the meaning of language as well.

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So what if we find alien life? Don’t panic!

TESS spacecraft
An artist’s conception shows the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, monitoring a distant star and its planets. (NASA Illustration)

AUSTIN, Texas — If extraterrestrial life exists, there’s a chance we’ll detect it sometime in the next 20 years. And then what? A recently published study suggests that most folks will take the news calmly, if they care at all.

“How would we react if we find that we’re not alone in the universe? This question has been the cause of great speculation over the years — but, until now, virtually no systematic empirical research,” Michael Varnum, a psychologist at Arizona State University, said today in Austin at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In a study published by Frontiers of Psychology, Varnum and his colleagues suggest that revelations about life beyond our planet will be viewed more positively than negatively.

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Scientists will seek signs of aliens’ bad behavior

HabEx telescope and sunshade
An artist’s conception shows the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission’s space telescope and its starshade. (NASA / JPL Illustration)

Global warming and nuclear blasts may be bad for humanity, but astrobiologists say they could be good indicators of the presence of intelligent life on distant worlds.

Such signatures of risky biological behavior should therefore be included in the list of things for future space telescopes to seek out, researchers say in a white paper prepared for the National Academy of Sciences.

The strategy would add a contemporary twist to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, reflecting the view that Earth is transitioning into a technology-driven geological era some call the Anthropocene.

“Examining the Anthropocene epoch through the lens of astrobiology can help to understand the future evolution of life on our planet and the possible evolution of technological, energy-intensive life elsewhere in the universe,” the researchers write.

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Messages and music beamed to alien super-Earth

Beaming signals to GJ273 b
The target of the “Sonar Calling” binary-coded radio transmission is a planet known as GJ273 b. (METI International Illustration / Danielle Futselaar)

Scientists and artists have banded together to beam coded radio transmissions toward a star that has a potentially habitable planet, just 12.4 light-years from Earth.

“Sónar Calling GJ273b” is the latest effort to communicate with aliens, 43 years since the first attempt was made using the 1,000-foot Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

The “Sónar Calling” messages were sent on three successive days, Oct. 16-18, from the 32-meter EISCAT radio antenna in Tromsø, Norway, just inside the Arctic Circle. Each transmission was directed at peak power of 2 megawatts toward a red dwarf star known as GJ273, or Luyten’s Star, in the constellation Canis Major.

Astronomers say Luyten’s Star harbors a planet that’s more than twice as massive as Earth, in an orbit where water could conceivably exist in liquid form. “Sónar Calling” aims to communicate with any radio-savvy life forms on that planet, called GJ273 b.

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‘Alien: Covenant’ delivers the gory goods

'Alien: Covenant'
“Alien: Covenant” expands the film franchise’s monster menagerie. (Twentieth Century Fox)

Spoiler Alert: This item avoids discussing major plot twists in “Alien: Covenant,” but wait until after you see the movie to read it if you want to stay totally in the dark.

We’ve seen enough “Alien” movies by now that we pretty much know what should be coming, and “Alien: Covenant,” the latest installment in the space-horror franchise, turns the dial up to 11.

There are new ways to pick up alien infections, new ways for incubating monsters to pop out of their hosts, and new ways for the crew members of the colony spaceship Covenant to fall for alien set-ups they totally should have seen coming.

If only they had watched the first “Alien” movie from the year 1979, they could have saved themselves a lot of grief in the year 2104.

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How an astronaut got tangled up in WikiLeaks

Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard
NASA astronauts Edgar Mitchell (foreground) and Alan Shepard (background) work on the lunar surface during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. (Credit: NASA)

WikiLeaks’ purloined emails cover a wide range of issues that were handled by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, but the farthest-out issues may well have to do with E.T., alien energy sources and Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell.

While GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump focused his fire on what the WikiLeaks file had to say about Clinton’s Wall Street speeches, UFO fans dwelled on what Mitchell was telling Podesta as he made the transition from the Obama White House to the Clinton campaign in 2015.

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Messages beamed to aliens amid debate over perils

Cebreros Station
The European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain transmitted an 866-second encoded radio message in the direction of Polaris, 434 light-years away. (Credit: ESA)

More than 3,000 messages were beamed toward the North Star today by a powerful radio telescope – and although the exercise was largely symbolic, it serves to revive a debate over whether we should be trying to contact aliens.

Today’s transmission by the European Space Agency’s Cebreros deep-space tracking station in Spain was the culmination of a yearlong effort known as “A Simple Response to an Elemental Message,” spearheaded by Irish-born artist Paul Quast.

With support from ESA and other organizations, Quast and his collaborators solicited 3,775 text-only messages from around the world in response to this question: How will our present environmental interactions shape the future?

The 14-minute digital transmission with all those answers was beamed toward Polaris, the North Star, at 8 p.m. GMT (1 p.m. PT).

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Alien-hunters take aim at the star next door

European Extremely Large Telescope
The European Extremely Large Telescope is one of the yet-to-be-built observatories that could target the nearest exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b, for direct imaging.. (Credit: ESO)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A multimillion-dollar campaign to look for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations has added telescopic observations of the nearest known exoplanet, Proxima Centauri b, to its agenda.

Last month’s announcement about the detection of Proxima b caused a sensation because scientists said the planet is only a little more massive than Earth, orbiting in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the red dwarf star that’s closest to our own solar system. That put Proxima b at the top of the list of prospects in the search for life beyond the solar system.

It may take a decade or two, but the Breakthrough Prize Foundation says it is looking into the options for direct imaging of Proxima b, a mere 4.3 light-years away,

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Have aliens ever existed? Chances are set high

Image: Ellie Arroway in "Contact"
Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) listens for alien signals in the movie “Contact.” (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Are we alone? Fifty-five years ago, astronomer Frank Drake came up with an equation that weighed the odds for aliens, and now two astronomers have tweaked the formula to come up with a slightly different spin.

Their bottom line? There’s an astronomically high chance that other civilizations have arisen elsewhere in the universe at some point in its 13.8 billion-year history.

The University of Washington’s Woody Sullivan and the University of Rochester’s Adam Frank published their assessment in the May issue of Astrobiology, and Frank is following up with an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times.

“While we do not know if any advanced extraterrestrial civilizations currently exist in our galaxy, we now have enough information that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history,” Frank writes.

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Five science tales that aren’t April Fool’s jokes

Image: Elasmotherium
A painting by Heinrich Harder (circa 1920) provides a view of Elasmotherium, a horned animal that went extinct tens of thousands of years ago. (Credit: Heinrich Harder via Wikipedia)

Unicorns are real! Scientists propose cloaking device to protect Earth from aliens! Glow-in-the-dark skin grown in lab! Those may sound like April Fool’s headlines, but they’re actually amped-up twists on real-life science. Check out five recent scientific revelations that take a walk on the weird side.

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