Is anyone out there? Send a message to potential alien life

Video: Have you ever wanted to send a message into space? Now two people will have their chance to do it. Christina Stevens reports.

TORONTO – How would you like to be the voice of planet Earth?

It could happen: the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astrophysics is calling for people to submit messages they can transmit to two potentially habitable planets in our solar system.

If you’re interested, you’d better hurry up: the Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) contest closes on Sept. 25. All you have to do is submit a text or video message of 100 words or less.

Watch one woman’s message
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The university will post the most interesting submissions on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The winner gets passes to the 2013 Toronto Science Festival and will have his or her message sent from the Algonquin Radio Observatory telescope (ARO) to two stars identified as having potentially habitable planets.

The two habitable planets are Tau Ceti and Kepler 62. Tau Ceti is about 12 light years away (meaning the signal, which travels at the speed of light, will take 12 years to reach the star system). Kepler 62 is about 1,200 light years away.

The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-62, a five-planet system about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)
The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-62, a five-planet system about 1,200 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech). NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

This won’t be the first radio signal transmitted into space: Earthlings have been sending messages into space since the first radio transmission in the late 1800s. But this would be a message directed to these specific star systems.

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So what are the chances that an alien will intercept the message and send one back or perhaps visit? Slim.

Though the planets may harbour life, it may be microscopic, undeveloped or just plain uninterested in receiving a phone call.

There is also something called the Drake Equation to take into consideration. This equation takes into account the likelihood of another intelligent civilization out in our galaxy.

Watch: Former SETI Institute director Jill Tarter explains the Drake Equation

Humans have tried sending messages to planets many times. The first attempt to contact a planet was in 1962 by the former Soviet Union. The message was simple: “Mir.” Mir means both “world” and “peace.”

In 1984 the U.S.-based SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) was formed. The organization is funded by donations from individuals and grants from private organizations and listens for any signals that may emanate from another planet. The movie Contact, based on the Carl Sagan book of the same name, was based on SETI’s search. The character of Dr. Ellie Arroway is based on former SETI director Jill Tarter.

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There has yet to be any communication from another planet, though on Aug. 15, 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehmann found a signal that was so strong it blew the recording instrumentation off the chart. Ehmann circled the code in the printouts and wrote “Wow!” in the margins. This is commonly known as the “Wow!” signal. The signal was never repeated and its source was unknown. It remains a mystery.

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