LITTLE FERRY, NJ.., December 15, 1998 -- Plans of a Houston-based corporation to transmit personal messages to the stars constitute "great entertainment, but questionable science," according to radio astronomer Dr. H. Paul Shuch. At a press conference today in Las Vegas, the Encounter 2001 organization announced that it will shortly begin transmitting individuals' greetings, for a price, in the direction of four nearby sun-like stars believed to harbor habitable planets.
"Radio contact is a logical scenario whereby we might meet our interstellar neighbors," says Shuch, executive director of the international nonprofit SETI League. "The photon is, after all, the fastest spaceship known to man. It travels relatively unimpeded through the interstellar medium, at the fastest possible speed -- the speed of light."
It would be fun to beam personal greetings into space, Shuch concedes, but like a message in a bottle, the prospects for successful contact are rather slim. "On the other hand," he observes, "our highest-power radio waves have already reached out to fifty light years, announcing our presence to any technological civilization inhabiting planets within that range. Just fifty more years, and our presence will be know out to one hundred light years. Our calling card is already in the mail."
The four stars targeted by the Encounter 2001 transmissions represent "just about one billionth of the logical candidate stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone," notes Shuch. "I suppose as lottery tickets go, those are pretty long odds." He is concerned that some participants will confuse support for this commercial enterprise with much-needed public support for valid scientific endeavors. Still, some SETI scientists contend that such private ventures will help to raise public consciousness about the prospects for other intelligent civilizations in the cosmos, and that has to bode well for all SETI science.
SETI scientists seek to determine through microwave and optical measurements whether humankind is alone in the universe. Since Congress terminated NASA's SETI funding in 1993, The SETI League and other scientific groups have been attempting to privatize the research. Experimenters interested in participating in the search for intelligent alien life, or citizens wishing to help support it, should email to join_at_setileague_dot_org, check the SETI League Web site at http://www.setileague.org/, send a fax to +1 (201) 641-1771, or contact The SETI League, Inc. membership hotline at +1 (800) TAU-SETI. Be sure to provide us with a postal address to which we will mail further information. The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported, non-profit [501(c)(3)], educational and scientific corporation dedicated to the electromagnetic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
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