This week, Professor Philip Lubin and his graduate student Travis Brashears are launching their project, Voices of Humanity, to send information into space using lasers. Their crowdfund has already started to gain traction so the idea of sending our culture out into space using lasers is clearly a compelling one. Here’s how it will work…

Space Lasers

Engaging Everyone in Space Exploration

Some scientists consider lasers as a viable way to discover alien life as they are a good way to send information a long distance very quickly. Though the team found no evidence of alien life, the idea of using lasers as a way to communicate with aliens is still feasible, only we will be doing the laser signalling.

Most people won’t get to go to space. There are a few reasons for this but the first ones to spring to mind are a) it’s really expensive to send someone into space and b) not many people are fit enough to go anyway. But Lubin and Brashears are suggesting that there is an alternative.

Instead of physically travelling into space, this pair are suggesting that we send our culture via tweets, images, music, documents, even our DNA codes into space. In a sense there will then be a part of us all emanating out through space.

This will be achieved using the Humanity Chip, a small disk around 10cm in diameter that will be put into orbit around Earth. The hope is that one of these chips will be put on every rocket leaving Earth, taking data further and further out into the universe.

If the pair achieve the full funding they require via Kickstarter, they plan to build a laser powerful enough to beam data out further. Using binary code, the information can be transmitted with the laser using on and off instead of 1s and 0s. The pair are calling this process ‘beam you up’.

Humanity Chip

Image Credit: Voices of Humanity, Kickstarter

Laser Communication

The time is takes to communicate across such vast areas is perhaps the biggest problem facing scientists looking for life. As communication and travel take so long there is the possibility that even if we were to find aliens, by the time we get them their civilisation could be long gone.

The laser Lubin plans to use will be super powerful and therefore less likely to fade out over vast distances in space. This makes far-off destinations more accessible as a laser can travel accurately and, crucially, much faster than a rocket.

Lasers are also easier to detect than, say, radio waves. This is because there is plenty of radio noise in space. In 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell spotted a radio signal coming from a region of space. Even with a name like LGM-1 (short for Little Green Men), the transmissions were traced to a spinning neutron star, and not an alien in sight.

Data cloud around Earth

Creating a Data Cloud in Space

Part of the reason for sending all this data is the idea of ‘backing up humanity’. By sending lots of data out into space, if something terrible happens to us here on Earth, the things we created will still exist in binary form out in the universe. The humanity chip is a way of achieving a kind of digital immortality.

Lubin said, “personally, I would like to send out a blueprint for life on Earth and how to reconstruct us, how to make us.” These chips will provide “everything required to have a do-it-yourself ‘build humanity’ project.”

Of course, there are some people, including noted astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who are less keen on the idea of broadcasting ourselves to the universe. It seems risky to tell potentially more intelligent beings everything about us before we are even aware of their existence.

Lubin’s answer to this is both optimistic and terrifying. “If they want to come and eat us, presumably they already know that we’re here. People are used to being afraid of the dark from when the were children. We want to explore the universe – not be afraid of it.”

While the idea of communicating with aliens is exhilarating and scary in the same breath, the idea of communicating using lasers over long distances is still worth further exploration. As we continue to explore space with unmanned vessels, our determination to go further and further is expressed in science fiction films like The Martian or Star Trek Beyond. Perhaps one day we will be using this form of laser communication to get in touch with spaceships in galaxies far far away…