Lexington, Ky., invites aliens with space travel ad

If you were an alien from TRAPPIST-1, a star 40 light-years from Earth, looking for signs of intelligent life, you might see odd bursts of infrared light from our solar system. If you're cunning enough to deduce that the infrared light is a message in binary code from another civilization, you can decipher it and piece together a pixelated image.

Then, if you — the alien — somehow understand English, you can read the message below: “Visit Lexington, Kentucky.”

This is the ideal situation for the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau Enjoy the city's bluegrass fields and bourbon.

The tourism bureau announced the moonshot travel promotion in a news release on Tuesday, as part of a campaign to attract more down-to-earth visitors. But extraterrestrial outings are real, and based on previous attempts to send messages to the stars about habitable planets and humanity, experts told The Washington Post — leaving an infinitesimal chance of the first message from aliens coming from Earth. The Bluegrass State.

“A lot of people think Kentucky is a flyover state, and it's nice to give them the idea that we're not,” said Robert Loder, a chemistry professor at the University of Kentucky who advised the Stars on Lexington's message. “…and that Earth is not a flying planet.”

Lexington's promoters took advantage of the interest surrounding UFOs and space travel to come up with an unusual idea amid congressional hearings last year. Leslie Miller, vice president of marketing for the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the space travel theme still fits the bureau's promotional goals. They need to market Lexington as a welcoming, friendly place.

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“What better way to do that than to come up with the first tourism promotion [for] Does Lexington invite aliens and aliens to come here? Miller said.

Lowder, a Lexington resident, was already intrigued The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (a field commonly abbreviated as SETI) was tapped to help the team. He had experience in the field as a member of the SETI League, an organization of amateur radio operators who search the skies for signals from other planets, and was happy to help.

“People would say, 'Why don't you advertise to the whole earth?'” Loder said. “Well, you know, it makes a long message and it's hard. If anybody wants to send an ad for Lexington? Sure. I'll send it.”

Lauder knew that sending a message from Earth would be more of a challenge than listening to signals from home. It became famous in 1974 when scientists broadcast a message from the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico. A constellation of stars 25,000 light years from Earth. The message is a string of binary code – represented by alternating ones and zeros at the frequency of radio-wave transmission – that can be decoded into a grid of colored pixels that represent a number of mathematical and scientific concepts, including a rough outline. One Man. It's mostly a cosmic conceit, scientists told the Cornell Chronicle In 1999, humanity had the ability to send such a message.

Loder and his team chose the same setting for their message. But they had more to say. Loder said the team consulted with experts in engineering, linguistics, philosophy and science fiction as it decided how to market Lexington to extraterrestrials.

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The message opens with symbols representing a sequence of prime numbers to show that it comes from an intelligent civilization, Loder said. Further down, the pixels display a pattern of chemical symbols representing water and ethanol (components of bourbon) and dopamine (“Because Lexington is fun!”). Outlines of two horses and a man under chemical symbols and an illustration of a rolling meadow — Lexington's “iconic bluegrass landscape.” The pixel grid ends with letters spelling out the city's call in English.

The infrared message included several grayscale photographs of Lexington and a short musical recording by Lexington blues musician Dee Dee Young, according to a city news release.

“We want to send things to show that we're interesting,” Loder said, “…so they get some idea of ​​what life on Earth is like.”

After receiving Federal Aviation Administration approval, the Lauder and Tourism Bureau used a powerful laser to direct TRAPPIST-1 into space during a small event at a Kentucky horse park on Oct. 24, Miller said. Now,​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ has been waiting 40 years for the message to reach its destination – and another 40 years for a possible response.

Does Kentucky have a chance at making first contact? Probably not, said Andrew Siemian, head of SETI research at the SETI Institute. Even assuming there are aliens near TRAPPIST-1, Siemian said it would take a lot of time and luck to get Lexington's transmission. An alien scanning the sky could notice that the infrared laser from Earth is artificial and could decode it, he said. But that would require any alien instruments to be pointed in the direction of our planet at the right moment from Lexington.

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“In 40 years, if they don't see our direction at that particular time, they're going to miss it,” Siemian said.

But Simeon said he was impressed with the plan and how it was followed through 1974 Arecibo message to send a possible transmission into space. He also said Lexington has picked a smart target: NASA vilified TRAPPIST-1 is an exciting prospect for extraterrestrial life, with several rocky planets orbiting its star habitable zone There are conditions where liquid water can exist.

Siemion said he envisioned that TRAPPIST-1 would act like scientists on Earth when they find signs of alien life on another planet: “We'll be training our telescopes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world,” he said. said.

Perhaps, if their instruments were powerful enough, they could even find the bluegrass fields of Kentucky. If they decide to visit, how will Lexington welcome them?

“I'm not sure we've come this far yet,” Miller laughed.

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