When: Wednesday 19th February, 2:40pm-3:25pm
Australia’s first interstellar message to a potentially habitable planet beyond Earth was sent a decade ago – and it began as a public engagement exercise in science communication. In August 2009, goodwill messages from almost 26,000 people were transmitted by NASA’s Tidbinbilla facility to Gliese 581d, an Earth-like planet some 20.4 light-years way. In November 2019, that message will have passed the halfway mark, to eventually to arrive in January 2030 – just on a decade on from the date of this conference.This was HELLO FROM EARTH, an audacious project created for National Science Week in 2009.
Conceived to generate awareness of the International Year of Astronomy, it was a howling success: in just over a week, messages were uploaded from 199 nations, news stories ran on 1,000+ newspapers and it was linked to by 10,000+blogs. More than 254,000 people visited the website created to run the project, and 28,809 messages were uploaded. NASA was very specific about what could be allowed – no profanity, racism, personal attacks (but also no ribald or risqué humour), so we have to manually review and accept each submission. Hence, only 25,880 were accepted for transmission.
The messages provided an insight into how people see the world, our species and our place in the universe. They ranged from earnest calls for interstellar friendship and to save humanity from impending calamity, to good Aussie humour or banal puns. There were classes of primary school students asking for alien visits, and some took it seriously enough to enter sequences of Pi and Fibonacci numbers. This presentation will tell the story behind the project, how it came to be and how you go about organising such a mammoth science communication endeavour.
Wilson da Silva, Science Journalist, Editor & Communications Advisor, Wildfire Communications