It was 40 years ago that two Japanese astronomers, Masaki Morimoto and Hisashi Hirabayashi, sent a radio signal towards a star called Altair, 16.7 light years away.
Using a Stanford University telescope ‘while drunk’, the duo transmitted a message that aimed to show any aliens orbiting the star what Earthlings look like.
Now, a team of astronomers at the University of Hyogo is hopeful they will finally get the response that they have been waiting for – and prove that alien life exists.
They’re positioning a vast radio telescope in the city of Saku to receive a reply from any planets orbiting Altair, one of the brightest stars in the night’s sky.
Today (August 22) has been deemed the most likely date for a response, although it’s unclear how realistic the team’s expectations are of actually receiving a reply.
Do aliens exist? Japanese scientists hope to find out they do after beaming radio signals into the cosmos 40 years ago (file photo)
Radio signals representing 13 drawings were transmitted from the US on August 15, 1983, reports the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun
The original radio signal was transmitted by Morimoto and Hirabayashi from Stanford on August 15, 1983, and represented 13 drawings, according to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.
These 13 drawings – decoded into signals and sent akin to information in an email – depict the evolution of life on Earth, from unicellular organisms to fish, a lizard, an ape and a family of humans.
The crude sketches also show what appears to be a fish climbing from the water on to land – an early step in human evolution – one human waving, and, bizarrely, the word ‘toast’.
Four decades later, a team led by Shinya Narusawa at the University of Hyogo are using an antenna over 200 feet (64 metres) in diameter called Usuda Deep Space Center in Saku, in the hope of detecting a reply.
According to The Asahi Shimbun, August 22 has been deemed the most likely date for a response as it is the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar.
Narusawa has pointed out that exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – are being discovered all the time and billions more are thought to exist.
Pictured, the 200-foot antenna at Usuda Deep Space Center, a facility of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
In 2007, scientists captured an image of the rapidly rotating hot star , described as being ‘like a twirling ball of pizza dough’
Altair: Quick facts
Altair, also called Alpha Aquilae, is the brightest star in the northern constellation Aquila and the 12th brightest star in the sky.
Altair rotates at a speed of more than 200 km (120 miles) per second and is around 16.7 light years from Earth.
In 2007, scientists captured an image of the rapidly rotating hot star, described as being ‘like a twirling ball of pizza dough’.
Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
‘A large number of exoplanets have been detected since the 1990s,’ Narusawa told The Asahi Shimbun.
‘Altair may have a planet whose environment can sustain life.’
Altair is 16.7 light years away in the constellation of Aquila and is one of the brightest stars in the night’s sky.
There are no known planets in orbit around it, although it’s not clear if Morimoto and Hirabayashi knew this when they beamed their message from Stanford University.
However, that’s not to say it’s certain that Altair doesn’t have any planets, and the researchers are hoping for a reply to their message that will be indicative of some form of world.
According to a 2008 report by Gizmodo, the duo came up with the idea ‘when they were drunk’ and were expecting a reply as soon as 2015, but it didn’t come.
Hirabayashi was hopeful the message was received by aliens in the Altair star system in 1999 before beaming back a reply towards Earth.
‘I believe in aliens, but they are very difficult to find,’ he told Gizmodo at the time.
Extraterrestrial life has never been discovered, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (file photo)
Although it looks like a tongue in cheek bit of fun from the astronomers, experts are generally in agreement that life does exist outside of Earth.
Some detractors cite the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and various high estimates for their probability – commonly known as the Fermi paradox.
In other words, if there is extraterrestrial life, why have we not found any evidence for it?
Dr Gordon Gallup, a biopsychologist at the University of Albany, has one potential answer.
He thinks extraterrestrial life may be too scared of ‘dangerous’ and ‘violent’ humans to want to come here.
In a paper published last year he wrote: ‘If there is intelligent life elsewhere, they may view humans as extremely dangerous.
‘Maybe this is why there is no proof or compelling evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence – we pose too great a risk, and they do not want to be discovered.’
Other likely answers for the Fermi paradox is that like us, aliens haven’t developed the sufficient technology to establish contact with worlds billions of light years away.
WHAT IS THE FERMI PARADOX?
The Fermi Paradox questions why, given the estimated 200bn-400bn stars and at least 100bn planets in our galaxy, there have been no signs of alien life.
The contradiction is named after its creator, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi.
He first posed the question back in 1950.
Fermi believed it was too extraordinary that a single extraterrestrial signal or engineering project has yet to be detected in the universe — despite its immense vastness.
Fermi concluded there must a barrier that limits the rise of intelligent, self-aware, technologically advanced space-colonising civilisations.
This barrier is sometimes referred to as the ‘Great Filter’.
Italian physicist Enrico Fermi devised the so-called Fermi Paradox in the 1950s. It explores why there is no sign of alien life, despite the 100 billions planets in our galaxy
If the main obstacle preventing the colonisation of other planets is not in our past, then the barrier that will stop humanity’s prospects of reaching other worlds must lie in our future, scientists have theorised.
Professor Brian Cox believes the advances in science and engineering required by a civilisation to start conquering the stars ultimately lead to its destruction.
He said: ‘One solution to the Fermi paradox is that it is not possible to run a world that has the power to destroy itself and that needs global collaborative solutions to prevent that.
‘It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster.’
Other possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox include that no other intelligent species have arisen in the universe, intelligent alien species are out there — but lack the necessary technology to communicate with Earth.
Some believe that the distances between intelligent civilsations are too great to allow any kind of two-way communication.
If two worlds are separated by several thousand light-years, it’s possible that one or both civilisation will be extinct before a dialogue can be established.
The so-called Zoo hypothesis claims intelligent alien life is out there, but deliberately avoids any contact with life on Earth to allow its natural evolution.
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