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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval 282

Posted by samzenpus
from the leaving-them-something dept.
Lucas123 writes "The problem: What do you leave behind that billions of years from now, and without context, would give aliens an some kind of accurate depiction of mankind. The answer: A gold-plated silicon disc with just 100 photos. That's the idea behind The Last Pictures project, which is scheduled to blast off in the next few months from Kazakhstan and orbit the earth for 5 billion years. The photos, etched into the silicon using a bitmap format, were chosen over a five-year process that involved interviews with artists, philosophers, and MIT scientists, who included biologists, physicists, and astronomers. To each, was posed a single question: What photos would you choose to send into outer space? The answer became an eclectic mix of images from pre-historic cave paintings to a photo of a group of people taken by a predator drone."
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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval

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  • by feedayeen (1322473) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @02:19AM (#41546363)

    It'll be gone long before then. If you figure that it only costs a few tens of millions for a private individual to launch a satellite, returning requires more fuel and heat shielding, but that's not too much more. Considering that artifacts only increase in value, the cost of "recovery" only decreases, the only thing that can happen to save it from some billionaire with questionable ethics is if there's so much junk up there that nobody even cares it exists.

  • by Empiric (675968) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @02:32AM (#41546415)
    My first question on this concept would be, "Why would the hypothetical aliens expect to find a message from us to them in orbit, and look there amongst all the other orbital junk?"

    Seems that the most natural thing to expect would be that one should look for informative objects where the culture lived, for which, off the top of my head, "encasement of pictures in a huge block of plexiglass, on Earth" seems more likely to actually be discovered. This seems akin to a historical human culture saying, "We want to make sure that future people know about us and what our ways were, so let's walk 500 miles away from where we live and all our buildings are, and put some paintings up in the mountains."
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @02:37AM (#41546437) Homepage

    It's "more space junk." If there was this lone object in orbit? Okay maybe. But we're talking about our planet with lots of stuff up there now. LOTS of stuff. And then meteor showers and crap?

    And even if somehow this one trinket found its way into the hands/claws/tentacles of a being from space, are they supposed to be convinced of something? I mean really. Oh look, among all this stuff, there are creatures out there... sending some kind of message... I will go visit them!

    "Mixed message" is the best we've got? And for fuck's sake... we've got actual people in orbit... people to talk to.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:12AM (#41546531)
    I assume you would start the list off with some Mathematical/scientific language [wikipedia.org] which is capable of being deciphered by aliens. Also the more probable people(ish) beings to make use of this would be descendants trying to decipher our long lost languages [wikipedia.org] in some post apocalyptic world.
  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maxwells_deamon (221474) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:19AM (#41546559) Homepage

    Don't belittle the above comment unless you have read a very SF good story called Omnilingual, by H. Beam Piper.

    It is even available for free:

        http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19445/19445-h/19445-h.htm [gutenberg.org]

  • Re:Bitmap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:07AM (#41546733)

    Summary:

    "The photos, etched into the silicon using a bitmap format,"

    Article:

    "MIT used a machine to etch the photos into the silicon using a bitmap format to create a binary image."

    This just illustrates what really pisses me off about journalism today. I spent a good half an hour looking for the actual source of the quotations and statements from the MIT guys. Most of the articles claim to be written by whoever posted them on their magazine/blog/newspaper, but here's the original interview that most of the articles are ripping their quotes from:

    http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-last-pictures-interview-with-trevor-paglen/
    I got this link from MIT: http://arts.mit.edu/va/artist/paglen/

    I'm still trying to figure out where the information about "MIT used a machine to blah blah" came from, however. So far I haven't actually been able to track it back to anybody.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by socrplayr813 (1372733) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:57AM (#41547359)

    To understand elements and chemical reactions you need to know how many protons an atom has, which requires knowledge of integers. Atoms are also discrete units, again integers. Even from an astronomical point of view planets and stars for distinct countable (integer) units. If we find aliens they may not understand integers, but if aliens find us they would pretty much have to have all the mathematical and scientific knowledge we do (and a lot more) to get here.

    That is how we see things. Regardless of whether we're right or not, an alien civilization could very well have come up with a theory that adequately explains chemical reactions that is completely different. To think otherwise is to succumb to your own bias.

    Now, I agree that a space-faring civilization would most likely understand integers, but you can't possibly know that. The universe holds too many amazing things. We have only the tiniest understanding of it, and much of what we 'know' could very well be wrong.

    Let's take a slight detour:
    Imagine a species that evolved in space, rather than on a planet's surface. To meet our current definitions of life, they would need to be able to move around and interact with their environment, which means some sort of propulsion in space. If this species managed to make it to our planet, they could be very intelligent and still not necessarily have any need for integers or subatomic particles.

    Plus at least simple counting has been shown in many animals, even those only distantly related to primates, so it's not like humans are even the only species on earth that can count integers.

    True, but they also evolved on the same planet with the same conditions. You can't assume that alien life would be anything like the life forms on this planet. Some people think they might be, but we don't KNOW.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:50AM (#41548455) Journal
    Why? Atoms are a model for the universe that comes from a mind that thinks in terms of countable quantities. A mind that thinks in terms of continuous values might discover quantum mechanics early on and regard atoms as probability distributions of different types of force.

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