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Life, Unbounded

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Tweets In Space Are Go – TODAY!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Tweet it to the stars (well, GJ667C to be precise)

A while back I wrote about a wonderful piece of art-meets-science-meets-the-public called Tweets In Space, the brainchild of Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall. You can read all about this project here.

The terrific news is that all systems are go for today, Friday 21st September, as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico. To quote from the Tweets In Space website:

“As a live performance event between 8:30 and 9 PM Mountain time (10.30-11pm EST) on September 21st 2012, we’ll beam Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support human-like, biological life. By engaging the millions of voices in the Twitterverse and dispatching them into the larger Universe, Tweets in Space activates a potent conversation about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders or understanding.”

If you want to get in on this pretty unique opportunity to send a message to interstellar space (be it profound, ordinary, or surreal) you can use your Twitter account and make sure your tweets contain the hashtag #tweetsinspace. You don’t even need a bona-fide Twitter ID, at the Tweets In Space website you can upload tweets anonymously.

The reactions that anticipation of this event seems to provoke are pretty interesting in their own right. Is this a serious attempt to communicate with putative aliens? Well, yes and no. It seems to me that this smorgasbord of 140 character messages – which will undoubtedly contain all sorts of nonsense – is perhaps as good a way as any. It’s certainly going to be an honest representation of humanity, full of intelligence, inanity, and plain old noise.

Here’s a quote from the Tweets In Space gang again:

“Tweets in Space asks us to take a closer look at our spectacular need to connect, perform and network with others. It creates a tension between the depth and shallowness of sharing 140 characters at a time with the entire Internet world, in all its complexity, richness and absurdity, by transmitting our passing thoughts to everywhere and nowhere. These “twitters” will be stretched across all time and space as a reflection on the contemporary phenomenon of the “status” updates we broadcast, both literal and metaphoric.”

And in an email message Nathaniel tells me:

“Now comes the new / cool part: deciding on how to send our transmission. We are thinking of sending simultaneous messages as both digital and analog. In other words, we’ll send images of each text message in analog format (like a composite TV signal), alongside the bits of ASCII at the same time, to perform a kind of “key.” We actually may send the digital version a few times, with 1-2 seconds of images of the text during that same time frame. We have a lot of other ideas, too – JPEG images with words in them, alongside digital / ASCII words (“human” “bird” “computer”), images of prime numbers with “counters” (beeps/bits like in “Contact”) and again the ASCII version alongside those, and more.”

Wow, who can resist that? Remember – add #tweetsinspace to your tweets 10.30-11pm EST. Have fun!

Caleb A. Scharf About the Author: Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His latest book is 'Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos', and he is working on 'The Copernicus Complex' (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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