HELLO, ET: NASA BEAMS BEATLES SONG 'ACROSS THE UNIVERSE' INTO SPACE


[PHOTO AT LEFT - Engineers at JPL's mission control initiated a signal telling the NASA's Deep Space Network to send the song into space. Image credit: NASA/JPL]

NASA DEEP SPACE NETWORK,  MAY 3, 2010 (FROM NASA HOMEPAGE) For the first time ever, NASA beamed a song -- The Beatles' "Across the Universe" -- directly into deep space at 7 p.m. EST on Feb. 4.

The transmission over NASA's Deep Space Network commemorated the 40th anniversary of the day The Beatles recorded the song, as well as the 50th anniversary of NASA's founding and the group's beginnings.

Two other anniversaries also are being honored: The launch 50 years ago this week of Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, and the founding 45 years ago of the Deep Space Network, an international network of antennas that supports missions to explore the universe.

The transmission was aimed at the North Star, Polaris, which is located 431 light years away from Earth. The song will travel across the universe at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney expressed excitement that the tune, which was principally written by fellow Beatle John Lennon, was being beamed into the cosmos.

"Amazing! Well done, NASA!" McCartney said in a message to the space agency. "Send my love to the aliens. All the best, Paul."

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, characterized the song's transmission as a significant event.

"I see that this is the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe," she said.

"Amazing! Well done, NASA! Send my love to the aliens." -- Sir Paul McCartney It is not the first time Beatles music has been used by NASA; in November 2005, McCartney performed the song "Good Day Sunshine" during a concert that was transmitted to the International Space Station (› Related Story). "Here Comes the Sun," "Ticket to Ride" and "A Hard Day's Night" are among other Beatles' songs that have been played to wake astronaut crews in orbit.

Feb. 4 has been declared "Across The Universe Day" by Beatles fans to commemorate the anniversaries. As part of the celebration, the public around the world has been invited to participate in the event by simultaneously playing the song at the same time it is transmitted by NASA. Many of the senior NASA scientists and engineers involved in the effort are among the group's biggest fans.

"I've been a Beatles fan for 45 years – as long as the Deep Space Network has been around," said Dr. Barry Geldzahler, the network's program executive at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "What a joy, especially considering that 'Across the Universe' is my personal favorite Beatles song."

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Hawking frets about dangerous aliens, but NASA has already sent them an invitation By Seth Borenstein

[PHOTO AT LEFT- Cosmologist Stephen Hawking]

WHO IS STEPHEN HAWKING? Stephen Hawking is considered the world’s foremost living theoretical physicist. He’s an expert on black holes whose stated intention is to unify quantum mechanics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, forming a single theory to explain the origin (and end) of the universe. Hawking, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, is the author of the best-selling book A Brief History of Time.

Stephen Hawking decided to become a scientist when he was 8 or 9 years old. By the time he was 14, he had narrowed down his field of interest to mathematics and physics. After obtaining a first class honors degree from Oxford University, he decided to do his Ph.D. study at Cambridge. It was at Cambridge that the disease that was to make him a physical wreck first manifested itself. He began bumping into things. His hands trembled and he found it difficult to tie his shoelaces. His parents took him to a specialist who, after subjecting him to a battery of tests, announced that he had a rare ailment known as motor neuron disease. TO READ MORE: Go to adietech.com at http://adietech.com/

THE NEWS: Cosmologist Stephen Hawking says it is too risky to try to talk to space aliens. Oops. Too late.

NASA and others already have beamed several messages into deep space, trying to phone extraterrestrials.

The U.S. space agency, which two years ago broadcast the Beatles song "Across the Universe" into the cosmos, on Wednesday discussed its latest search strategy for life beyond Earth.

"The search for life is really central to what we should be doing next in the exploration of the solar system," said Cornell University planetary scientist Steve Squyres, chairman of a special National Academy of Sciences panel advising NASA on future missions.

The academy panel is looking at 28 possible missions, from Mars to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. And NASA is focused mostly on looking for simple life like bacteria in Earth's solar system rather than fretting about potential alien overlords coming here.

Just days ago, Hawking said on his new TV show that a visit by extraterrestrials to Earth would be like Christopher Columbus arriving in the Americas, "which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

The famous British physicist speculated that while most extraterrestrial life will be similar to microbes, advanced life forms would likely be "nomads, looking to conquer and colonize."

The comment reinvigorated a three-year debate roiling behind the scenes in the small community of astronomers who look for extraterrestrial life, said Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, which looks for aliens. Should astronomers ban purposeful messages into the universe for fear of attracting dangerous aliens?

Shostak maintains it really does not matter, saying that approach is unnecessarily fearful.

While some people think broadcasting into the universe is "like shouting in a jungle, not necessarily a good idea," Shostak asked, "Are we to forever hide under a rock? That to me seems like no way to live."

There is a big difference of opinion in astronomy about the issue, said Mary Voytek, a senior astrobiology scientist at NASA headquarters.

"We're prepared to make discoveries of any type of life, of any form," Voytek said in a NASA teleconference. Much of the search for intelligent life is privately funded, by groups like SETI, she said.

About 20 years ago, NASA held a conference on this issue. Back then, most of the experts were worried about attracting the wrong type of aliens, said Christopher Kraft, the former NASA Johnson Space Center director who created Mission Control.

But Kraft, a NASA legend who received a lifetime achievement award Wednesday from the Smithsonian Institution, said he would welcome aliens. "I might just learn something," he said.

The SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, takes a passive approach, listening for any signals from aliens.

For more than a quarter of a century, however, various groups have been purposely sending out signals to other worlds. The most famous was a three-minute broadcast from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974, Shostak said.

The Canadians made a series of broadcasts using a Ukrainian antenna in the 1990s. The now-defunct Team Encounter of Houston and a prominent Russian astronomer made public and distinct "cosmic calls" out to the universe, including one just from teenagers.

NASA beamed "Across the Universe" to the star Polaris in 2008 to promote the space agency's 50th anniversary, the 45th anniversary of the Deep Space Network and the 40th anniversary of the Beatles song. And the same year, as part of the publicity for the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still," the movie was broadcast to the stars, Shostak said.

Four NASA deep space probes — Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 — carry plaques and recordings that say hello from Earth and give directions on how to get here. Those probes launched in the 1970s are at the edges of the solar system.

And that is on top of the broadcasts Earth inadvertently sends into the cosmos as part of daily life: radio and TV signals, airport and other radar communications.

"That horse left the barn a long time ago," Squyres said, speaking from an astrobiology conference in Houston. "Whether you do it intentionally or not, the signals are out there."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology planetary scientist Sara Seager does not think much of the broadcasts to space, because so far they are pointed at random, not toward potential Earth-like planets.

"We wouldn't even know where to send our message, it's so vast out there," Seager said. That will change in a few years when new telescopes will be able to find terrestrial planets that could support life.

Even then, Seager said any aliens coming to Earth probably would be so advanced they would not need to hear our message to find us. It would not be like Columbus stumbling upon on the New World, she said.

"If they have the capability to come here, they're probably to us as we are to ants on Manhattan," said former NASA sciences chief Alan Stern.

The closest any aliens could be is a few tens of light years away. With one light year equaling about 5.9 trillion miles, that means it would take them generations to get here travelling at the speed of light, Shostak said. And even that would be unlikely, he added.

Frank Drake, who did the first modern experiment looking for extraterrestrial intelligence, estimated there are about 10,000 intelligent civilizations in the universe, while the late Carl Sagan figured it was closer to a million, Shostak said.

Given how big the universe is, our nearest intelligent neighbour is more likely about 5,900 trillion miles away, he said.

"God has nicely buffered us," he said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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