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Bright Lights, Big ET

So long as we're turning the lights on and off, might as well say something
  (+4, -2)
(+4, -2)
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We continue to scan the skies for signals.

Sure we are sending lots of data into space with our radio and TV broadcasts, but we've made no statistically significant attempts to communicate with anyone.

But we're also planning on building a series of Interferometer telescopes to actually see planets around other systems.

Stands to reason that to the extent there are other civilizations out there, they are doing similar things.

Make sure that they don't only see life and civilization but immediately see information as well by building patterns into how we turn lights on and off as day changes into night.

This way, when they get the signal at first, we're already communicating -- and their response is going to be to the point, as opposed to "here we are, want to talk?" or "Lucille Ball, What were you thinking"?

theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

Looking for Laser ET signals http://www.ananova....ews.latestheadlines

Earth At Night http://www.skyimage...om/earatnitlar.html [theircompetitor, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Earth At Night http://www.skyimage...om/earatnitlar.html
[theircompetitor, Oct 04 2004]

Nasa city lights image http://visibleearth...bin/viewrecord?5826
[theircompetitor, Oct 04 2004]

Intergalactic Shadow Puppets http://www.space.co...ngworld_050415.html
[theircompetitor, Apr 18 2005]

Bright Lights, Big ET http://www.thestate...to-find-alien-life/
[theircompetitor, Nov 04 2011]

Article which looks at this idea from other side http://www.gizmag.c...intelligence/20409/
[AusCan531, Nov 13 2011]

Alien Nuclear Wars May Be Visible From Earth http://www.theatlan...-from-earth/404176/
[theircompetitor, Sep 12 2015]

Atypical blinking light patter around star http://www.theatlan.../?dom=pscau&src=syn
[theircompetitor, Oct 15 2015]

Flashy solar panels https://www.science...-what-it-might-look
[theircompetitor, Mar 17 2019]


       What do you plan to say with the lights? What rosetta stone do you suppose the aliens will use to translate and then read the morse code?
Basil2, Mar 11 2004

       Techniques for doing this, though obviously untested, :) do exist.   

       We sure noticed quasars, right? Obviously the level of energy is not available to us, but we noticed them because of periodicity.   

       You'd probably start by simulating universal frequencies (like spectra), in essence encoding them in the frequency of the flashes.
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       Cheers [TC].
Are we not doing this already as a planet?. Surely the standard Day/Night cycle would be apparent to any equiv_tech species?. They could make their own minds up about the ER (not the show, obviously!).
Are we talking about the recognition of non-random radiation patterns here?
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       No -- we're definitely talking signaling -- otherwise, we are already generating lots of data as you point out -- but that in fact does not contain rosetta info as Basil2 points out. So while it's possible they can decipher it, it won't be trivial, because it's not geared for it.   

       So at a minimum, the point of signaling would be to save the initial roundtrip by ensuring that the reply is coming back as "intelligible" as possible.   

       Of course a relatively trivial solution might be to add a special explanatory signal packet to all broadcasts -- the FCC could require it, for instance.   

       But somehow this smoke signal approach seems more halfbaked
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       I got your train of thought now. I was figuring that we are already broadcasting Prime Numbers et.al. on a good signal strength already so that a degree of communication (or at least a common platform of mathematics) can be established.
If you want to do it with light, then you would need to have a Web connection in every house tied to the house lighting system and be controlled by a common synchronised computer (watch out for dead spots e.g. Lots of Africa etc.!).
We probably have just such a device but then again so do others.
BTW, does inferterometry overcome the problem with the earth's atmosphere?
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       hmm, I think space based visibility would be based on how good the interferometry is and length of exposure. If Hubble can see the furthest galaxies, I'm guessing a thousand Hubbles strategically positioned can see a shitting fly. Though I'm no optics expert.   

       I wasn't thinking individual houses btw, I was thinking street lights, airports, skyscrapers. But I suppose it could include houses.
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       Yeah, but Hubble is outside of our atmosphere. This has always been the main optical problem in that the atmosphere seriously stops any resolution of light based telescopes (sodium noise etc. as you are probably aware). Also, 1000 Hubbles in a line will not increase resolution per se.
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       Strategically positioned doesn't mean a line :)
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       Granted! but the atmosphere is still aproblem, no?
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       gnomethang -- see link -- I think this is a non-issue
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       Hmm - NOt convinced. Where was this piccy taken from, bearing in mind that it is not a straight photograph but clearly a composite?. I am not dissing the idea here, but I think that the atmosphere is the main problem for any long range transmission.   

       OK, I see that it is from some orbiting satellites but they are still DAMN close to the Earth!.
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       Why do you assume that if there are other civilizations, they are trying to get in contact with us? It doesn't automatically stand to reason that.
yabba do yabba dabba, Mar 11 2004

       Correct [yabba], but we base the premise on the assumption that a civilisation with an equivalent technology base and development will be thinking in a similar way and will at least ask the question. Given the assumption that they are at a similar equiv_tech then we can only try to communicate in the same way.
Its sort of an extension of the Weak Anthropic Principle: The Universe can support other life because we are here to perceive it. Very Weak, I know!. It is an assumption , as well!
gnomethang, Mar 11 2004

       yabba: it's like yelling "Stella(r)" -- wow, that's weak -- Brando doesn't know if she's coming down. But he has to yell.   

       gnomethang, see additional (NASA) link. I think close or far then becomes issue of just how well you can "interfere"
theircompetitor, Mar 11 2004

       Yeah, there's probably other life out there. But I just think it gets really hard really quickly to categorize similar levels of technology, as one idea spawns another in quite a chaotic manner.
yabba do yabba dabba, Mar 11 2004

       I imagined this idea was similar to the morse code signalling at sea, with the shutter and the light.   

       Except using the Sun instead.   

       The problem is how to build a shutter that could block the light from the Sun?
Ling, Apr 19 2005

       You don't really need a shutter that big. Instead, just use a largish mirror to reflect the light and a similar-sized shutter. Granted, not as powerful, but you can't have everything.
RayfordSteele, Apr 19 2005

       If you also store location in [gnome]'s web-controlled lights, you can show the aliens home movies. Well, monochrome home movies (unless each house is required to have red, green, or blue lights?)(oh wait, we don't know the color sensitivity of their eyes).
Worldgineer, Aug 30 2006

       ha! Or at the very least, demo Pong :)
theircompetitor, Aug 30 2006

       Welcome aboard Flight 72, nonstop to Houston. Our movie tonight will be Charlie Chaplin, in..."
normzone, Aug 31 2006

       Or you could use lasers to make animations, maps, and other such things.That would probably be easier to understand.
apocalyps956, Sep 01 2006

       // a special explanatory signal packet//   

       Shouldn't that be a special ex- planetary signal packet?   

       //The problem is how to build a shutter that could block the light from the Sun?//   

       Build it a long way away from the Sun, in a far Lagrange point or something. Then it only has to cover a small arc to block the view of the sun from a distant star. Use a huge transmissive LCD or thousands of small, synchronised actuated shutters.
BunsenHoneydew, Sep 06 2006

       Oh wow, how wrong can you be? Of course a Lagrange point is going to be an infinitesimal fraction of the distance to even the nearest star, so you still end up having to build a sun-sized shutter.   

       I could also imagine a ring of segments, slowly and distantly orbiting the sun. Gaps in the ring pulse out a repeating sequence.
BunsenHoneydew, Jan 12 2007

       I would expect that intelligent lifeforms might be able to tell if the light is pulsing in amplitude, so the total Sun wouldn't need to be blocked out. Fortunately, the further from the Sun, the smaller the blocking system needs to be, but unfortunately, the more directional the signal will be.
Ling, Jan 12 2007

       By the way, I like the pulse idea. Like a rotary encoder, or paper tape system from old computer systems.
Ling, Jan 12 2007

       Originally named Intergalactic Morse Code, Idea just renamed to Bright Lights, Big ET, see link
theircompetitor, Nov 04 2011

       <Classic SF dilemna> This rather pre-supposes that we want somebody to notice us, doesn't it? </CSFD>
DrBob, Nov 04 2011

       As noted earlier, [DrBob], Lucille Ball sealed our fate :)
theircompetitor, Nov 04 2011

       During these sorts of discussions I always recall a phrase I once read saying "that we may well be a canary chirping loudly in a silent forest full of hawks".   

       I'm not naturally pessimistic on this topic but the thought can still give me the willies.
AusCan531, Nov 04 2011

       The thing that makes me skeptical about our ability to communicate with aliens is this: weird people.   

       What I mean is, it only takes one or two dud genes to create a weird person. The sort of weird person that invariably sits next to you on the bus. And they can be so weird that any question of a meaningful conversation is just out of the question.   

       So, our plans to converse with aliens in a universal language of prime numbers completely fall apart even when dealing with a very slightly altered human.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 05 2011

       [MB] if you've been attempting to strike up conversations, on the subject of prime numbers, with strangers sitting next to you on the bus, and having difficulty ... well, have you considered the possibility that the person sitting next to you is, in fact ... normal?
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       //considered the possibility that the person sitting next to you is, in fact ... normal?//   

       I live in East Anglia.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 05 2011

       I would disagree, MB. While we've not translated Shakespearean sonnets to dolphins, we do pretty well in training them.   

       Any life, even a non carbon life would have metabolic processes -- and that pretty much guarantees some sort of primitive feels good/feels bad, hungry/sated binary feeling, which would then be the basis of future signal interpretation.
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       Training dolphins and striking up conversations with strangers on a bus differ importantly from interstellar communication: With dolphins and bus weirdos, however ignorant you may be about your interlocutor initially, you learn something in the course of the conversation because it is *two way*   

       Much harder to invent a message which will be be comprehensible on the first try.   

       (//East Anglia// the opposite of Lake Wobegone: everyone there is *below* average.)
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       Let's start with the premise of the idea (and linked study) -- effect on environment, in a sense, is a sure sign that something is there.   

       We have to separate engineering challenges (i.e. if we know they're there, but messaging them and back exceeds the lifespan of a civilization that cares) from computational -- i.e. if we sit across from ET in a room, will we be able to develop a vocabulary.   

       I would posit there maybe intelligence we don't recognize, but we will some subset, and that subset can be communicated with, before they start eating us.
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       Unless eating us _is_ their attempt to communicate.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       Than which I can imagine no more convincing evidence supporting your claim to be an author of science fiction.
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       Thank you very much. We strive to imagine the unimaginable.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       Not finding the quote on the spot, but as they say, no one wants to write, everyone wants to have written. I had simply assumed everyone here is a science fiction writer :)
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       // as they say, no one wants to write, everyone wants to have written //   

       Who says that? _I_ want to write. I do it almost every day. Actually, I find the act of writing far more enjoyable and satisfying than the state of having written.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       I enjoy coming up with ideas and plots, but scene exposition has always seemed tedious to me. I will become a bestseller the minute they can just take the visions from my head onto an experience matrix that others can absorb directly.
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       If you're serious about writing, and I think you should be, you'll get good at it by building up your weaknesses rather than playing to your strengths. I used to go overboard with exposition, but struggle with dialog. I practiced by listening to how people converse naturally and balancing that with the intent of the passage. I sat down and wrote a few experimental shorts that were nothing but dialog. It worked, eventually. If you're having trouble with objective exposition, start looking at things around you and how they relate to one another. Try starting with something unrelated to the plot and working your way around to the point. And read William Gibson; he's a master of that technique.   

       That said, here's an easy way to handle exposition: don't bother with it. Dump your reader into the middle of a scene with no explanation whatsoever; let the important details naturally find their way into the narrative flow, be it action, dialog, what have you. Done well, it's captivating and fun to read. For study material on this technique, I suggest Joseph Heller.   

       // take the visions from my head onto an experience matrix that others can absorb directly. //   

       Alas, how I have dreamed of such a spectandulous device. Alas, I say!
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       //let// There's the rub. You dont "let" you "make."   

       That's more difficult than straight exposition. The definitive send-up of en-passant SF exposition, for my money, is Swanwick's _Stations of the Tide_
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       //        //let// There's the rub. You dont "let" you "make."    //   

       Au contraire. If you'll forgive a bit of soppy metaphor, the story is a living thing. It grows and evolves. You can no more force it into a pre-conceived framework than you can make a baby elephant grow up to become an adult hedgehog. You may create it, but if that process of creation leads to unexpected changes, it's very important to stop and carefully examine those changes; they may be the story you intended to tell all along.   

       // Swanwick's _Stations of the Tide_ //   

       I'll have to read it, then. Any other reccomendations? (please don't say Stanivslaw Lem)
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       I'll stick to writing games, thx :)   

       As to writers, not surprisingly, I like ideas that stretch more than necessarily style. Stephenson is by far my favorite writer of SF, George R. R. Martin a close second, but my tastes have changed a lot over the years. Certainly liked Zelazny a lot at the time. I like Stross, but in streches. I recently read and truly enjoyed The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi   

       I read Lem in Russian, I wonder how much better (if at all) that translation may have been than English.
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       Recommendations for *formal* inventiveness? Zelazny. Though it seems likely you know that already.   

       What's your beef with Lem, by the way?
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       Neal Stephenson is one of the gods in my personal pantheon.   

       BTW, I may have accidentally misrepresented myself as a SF writer; I'm a frothingly rabid SF fan, but I actually write whatever genre a story happens to fit. My last three submissions, for example, were a western, a present-day war-aftermath, and one of those experimental dialogs I mentioned. I'm not trying to brag, I just dislike misconceptions. I'm also dropping clues.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       // The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi //   

       Very cool piece.   

       I find Lem conceptually brilliant, but pedantic, plodding, overly-narrated, and utterly snooze-inducing in execution. Kind of like Hemingway after his editors turned chicken and stopped reining him in (this statement excludes his later short works).
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       I actually have only passing familiarity with Roger Zelazny. Perhaps I should go back and read more of him.   

       Most people are surprised to find out that I'm not really as well-read as most serious writers, which I'm (sort of ) working to correct. My problem is that when I start reading somebody else's fiction my own creativity dries up (with the bizarre exception of Dan Abnett). I do my best work when I've been reading non-fiction, history and theoretical physics (or at least the lay version thereof) being favorite.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       I don't know, I recall reading the Cyberiad and laughing just as much as I did later when reading Hitchhiker. It could be culturally it resonated more to those with Iron Curtain experience.   

       Unforgivably, I omitted Dan Simmons above -- in terms of being both a generator of mindfuck ideas and incredible, literate prose, especially in his best work, he is unequaled in my opinion.
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       //I do my best work when I've been reading non- fiction, history and theoretical physics// Hmm ... and you like Stephenson. Read much Pynchon?
mouseposture, Nov 05 2011

       // It could be culturally it resonated more to those with Iron Curtain experience. //   

       Could be. That's one I never read, but I sometimes got the impression that many of Lem's concepts were altered by translation, which I now realize is subtly ironic. Also, he came from the Russo-Caucasian* 'school' of writing, and my comments concerning Lem pretty much sum up my opinion of that entire era of literature. It's just not my glass of tea, I guess.   

       *my own terminology, don't ask me to cite.   

       // Read much Pynchon? //   

       Just 'Gravity's Rainbow', like everybody else. Loved it, of course. Genre-wise, it's right up my alley; alternate-history WWII with a pinch of existentialism and seasoned to taste with social satire? Yes, please. I have an old copy of V in a box somewhere, but I've never managed to crack the cover.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       //Russo-Caucasian school of writing//   

       That explains everything! Going over everything, inserting some proper aint's, crossing Russian and replacing it with American, and generating the Great American Novel, see you on the bestseller list :)
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       Yeah, that's pretty much my method in a nutshell, although you forgot the motorcycle chase sequence.   

       // see you on the bestseller list //   

       Yes, you will.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       that's a chopper, baby
theircompetitor, Nov 05 2011

       Tarantino I ain't. About the only things he and I have in common is that we both love 'Kelly's Heroes' and we're both complete assholes.
Alterother, Nov 05 2011

       For me the absolute pinnacle of an exquisitely constructed SF short story is "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang with his "The Alchemist's Gate" in 2nd place. I swear that man had me thinking like an alien by the time I finished the story. (As if I'm not odd enough.) Too bad his offerings are so rare. Anyway, Chiang's work is highly recommended by me - an anonymous person on the Internet.   

       Send us (or just me) where to find your work [alterother]. And thanks for the tips about Hannu Rajaniemi and some others i wasn't familiar with [TC] and [MP]. Off to order some SF!
AusCan531, Nov 06 2011

       If you like Chiang, check out his short story 'Exhalation'. Mind-blowing. I've read it eight or nine times and I'm still reverse-engineering it. Apparently, he's made a very good career as a technical writer, which is why his fiction is infrequent.   

       As for finding my work: A) I'm just starting out, with only two short pieces published so far, and thus I am still masked by obscurity, and B) some clever Halfbaker is going to have to figure out who I am based solely on information divulged on HB compared to my author's bio and subject material (this is on the honor system; no cheating please*). There will be prizes. I was planning to make this a formal HB event ([jutta] willing, of course) with the publication of my first novel, but that's a way off yet, so why not start early.   

       *those few who already know my secret identity are ineligible, but may claim consolation prizes if they wish.
Alterother, Nov 06 2011

       I just figured out Alterother is Stephen King :)
theircompetitor, Nov 06 2011

       Yes, I've got Exhalation in print and audio book. I've never came across a better nontechnical description of the concept of entropy. It seems to me that his stories are not so much written as crafted. Can't expect him to churn them out like sausages I guess. Better to have a few jewels than a lot of gravel. Looking forward to tracking down your creations.
AusCan531, Nov 06 2011

       [The Alterother] is not Stephen King, though the two have met a time or three.   

       He lives about two hours east of me, is a couple-three decades older, and has written approximately two thousand more books.
Alterother, Nov 06 2011

       // Looking forward to tracking down your creations. //   

       Glad to hear it, and when you find them, I hope you enjoy them. I'll keep dropping clues, though I expect it will be some time before I earn my name as a writer.   

       Be forewarned, however, that my work is not as deep, philosophical, and thought-provoking as that of our favorite authors, or if it is, I tend not to see it that way. That's not to say that they aren't intricately-woven, captivating tales of intrigue, wonder, and pathos, but to me, my stories are just stories. If they have any deeper meaning, I applaud the reader for discovering it, but it probably wasn't intentional.   

       Now I'm off to go sort the jewels from my heap of gravel.
Alterother, Nov 08 2011

       //has written approximately two thousand more books.has written approximately two thousand more books.//   

       55-2000 =
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 08 2011

       55-2000 = -1.6 (in logarithmic units). So quite close. Approximately.
mouseposture, Nov 08 2011

       My point was that Stephen King has written dozens of novels and published most of them, whereas I have written (coincidentally) about 1.6 novels and, to date, published none of them, which could be important data when determining whether or not I am Stephen King. Obvious exaggeration when specificity is not crucial is part of my MO. I thought you all knew that.
Alterother, Nov 09 2011

       Unfortunately, you failed to factor in my specificity requirements clause. When speaking of novel-length works that I have written but have not yet had published, I require definite specificity. Unlike virtually everything else, I take my writing very seriously and do not brag.   

       Nice try, though. It made me chuckle.
Alterother, Nov 10 2011

       "To see nighttime city lights as bright as Earth's on a world in the habitable zone of the closest star, you would need a telescope with optics at least 100 times wider in diameter than the Hubble Space Telescope's.". This is from article [Link] about scientists examining this very idea. The quote I chose gives me pause as to viability but it is still nothing I'd see as a deal breaker given the rapid advances in imaging technology.
AusCan531, Nov 13 2011

       If you were Stephen King I'd be hitting you up for $100 back on 'The Gunslinger'.
FlyingToaster, Nov 13 2011

       If I were he, I'd give it to you.
Alterother, Nov 13 2011

       If someone invented an unnatural light source, one that was purely designed, it would be very bright as it would stand out relative to all that nature. Make that motion rather than source.
wjt, Sep 13 2015

       //a telescope with optics at least 100 times wider in diameter than the Hubble Space Telescope's// I agree, that's not a deal breaker at all. We should have that within 50 years.   

       Presumably the "100 times" is for resolution more than light- gathering? If so, then a swarm of several Hubbles spaced apart would give you the same result, no?
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 17 2019

       Or a linear telescope, which I've been meaning to post.
notexactly, Mar 18 2019

       That sounds cool. Make it so.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 18 2019


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