Press Release

Scientists to Gather Messages to the Cosmos for ‘Earth Speaks’ Project

By SpaceRef Editor
May 14, 2009
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For nearly fifty years, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has used radio telescopes to scan the heavens for signs of alien technology. But scientists still do not agree about whether we should reply to an extraterrestrial signal, and if we do, what we should say. To help answer these questions, on May 15, 2009, Dr. Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message
Composition at the SETI Institute, will launch Earth Speaks, a research project to collect messages online from people around the world.

“Earth Speaks invites people to ponder the question, ‘What would you say to an extraterrestrial civilization?'” said Thomas Pierson, Chief Executive Officer of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “By submitting text messages, pictures, and sounds from across the globe, people from all walks of life will contribute to a dialogue about what humanity might say to intelligent beings on other worlds.” he explained.

The occasion for the launch is the visit to the SETI Institute by Kamau Hamilton, a sixth-grade student from the Central Harlem Montessori School, whose winning idea for the Kids Science Challenge ( inspired the SETI Institute to invite other children to submit their own “Sounds of Earth.” (Hamilton’s sounds include the jangling of bracelets and the squeak of sneakers over a hardwood floor). Kamau will be a special guest at the Institute’s annual open house, Celebrating Science, on May 16th, 2009 from 2-4 pm. The public is welcome.

Now all people can submit their messages to Earth Speaks at, where they also enter labels or “tags” to help researchers categorize the messages. “By studying the tags used by many different people, we can capture the major themes that run through thousands of individual messages,” said Vakoch “That sets the stage for creating interstellar messages that begin to portray the breadth and depth of the human experience.”

“Earth Speaks uses technology of the twenty-first century to understand human aspirations around the globe in ways not possible before,” said Dr. Jill Tarter, Director of SETI Research at the SETI Institute. “This is a potentially a huge resource that can be explored to look for cultural universals.” Questions about message content take on increased importance as the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) begins a new phase of research with its galactic plane survey for radio signals from other civilizations. As search technology becomes more powerful, the chances of detecting distant civilizations
beyond Earth increase.

The SETI Institute currently has no plans to transmit messages into space. “The question of whether we should send intentional messages to other civilizations is too important to be answered hastily,” said Pierson. “Through Earth Speaks, the SETI Institute also hopes to foster an open and thoughtful debate about the pros and cons of sending messages to other worlds.”

Although radio and televisions signals are leaking from Earth into space continually, such signals are weak in comparison to focused transmissions aimed at specific stars. Thus, any future intentional messages could provide extraterrestrial civilizations with their first direct evidence of life on Earth. “First impressions matter,” said Vakoch. “The initial messages we send to an extraterrestrial civilization could set the tone for a conversation lasting hundreds or thousands of years.”

The SETI Institute

The SETI Institute is a unique team of world class scientists dedicated to understanding the origin and nature of life on Earth and its possible existence throughout the universe. The Institute accomplishes this via:

Research – Fundamental and significant investigations into the workings of life, and how and where it might have arisen.

Exploration – Examining life in its most extreme forms and locations on Earth, exploring our solar system for evidence of microbial life, and searching the cosmos for indications of distant life, especially intelligent life.

Education – Education and Outreach programs inviting students to participate in our search for life in the universe, and sharing the wonder of our science with the public.

The SETI Institute is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in science today to unlock the mysteries of the cosmos.

SpaceRef staff editor.