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The Voyager update project
Immortal since Feb 4, 2008
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  • chris107’s project
    The Voyager update project
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    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.


    The Lighthouse Theory is a temporary name for this Voyager update project. In a nutshell we want to mark our territory. This post is sort of the social connotations and implications of this effort. Before I get into the specifics of the social contextualization, I want to first iterate why this idea of marking our territory is so compelling for us.

    In thinking about why we want to communicate with an alien life form we realized that there is no way to really come up with anything practical. The alien could be in the spectrum of our imagination, but most likely is something outside of that limited bandwidth of the imaginary alien. This forces us to look within at our own Earth and Solar System.

    Aside from us not being able to imagine or comprehend what we could be communicating with. There are some humane implications that our group felt were worth considering. The first being that any sort of artifact blasted into space, particularly with contents from our earth (a la KEO and Voyager), could render whatever life form overwhelmed. A literary example would be Ice-Nine in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle.

    A commonplace example would be the episode of the Simpsons where the Simpsons go to Australia. The last scene in the episode finds a Koala Bear on the plane that carries the Simpsons back to the United States. Subsequently the United States becomes overcome with Koala's.

    The inclusion of these examples is to bring up the notion of colonialism. This overwhelming of an element or some other artifact from Earth could damage and possibly hurt the recipient of our message. This is something we do not want as we desire a friendly or at the very least platonic relationship with these aliens. The result is to look within and make our own planet the message.

    We're not looking to pillage like Western Europe has for the few hundred years. Well not yet at least. However, this message isn't intended to be so egotistical that we get stuck and stare at the pond like Narcissus. The contents of the message are still up in the air, and for the message itself is not as important as making some kind of connection. That is why the driving force behind our idea is curiosity. This is not like the 60's where we were in hot pursuit of the moon to be better than Russia, this is an age of Web 2.0. This collective knowledge is a powerful symbol of humanity and the curiosity that drives this is what our group wants to harness for this project.

    So what exactly is it that we're doing? Well we're marking our territory. More specifically, we want to create a lighthouse for the rest of the universe. A beacon stemming from our planet or solar system. We see this in many forms from a dog peeing on a fire hydrant, to pheromones, to the yellow stickers German Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. This lighthouse describes our marking system the best. Not for its physical qualities, but for the social qualities it happened to exude. The wikipedia article goes into further depth, but here are the main reasons for choosing this marking system. It was a navigational beacon. It was a resource silo. It notified other nations, specifically the Chinese in the 13th century AD, that these lands have been accounted for. Finally, it was a monument of spectacle. This is just our first iteration, so the marking system will undoubtedly change. We are currently talking about the feasibility of cosmic background radiation as the practical means of communication. But, figuratively this is the intent of the group.

    Cosmic Background Radiation is essentially a left over from the cooling of the universe. It originated 400,000 years after the big bang. This was the time of last scattering, which is when the universe had cooled enough that there wasn't enough energy to keep electrons and protons apart. So the universe went from being a plasma to consisting of helium and hydrogen and the areas that were more dense with these kept attracting more and more matter around them and formed the galaxies.

    Our instrument of detecting CBR:

    The CMB photons scatter off free charges such as electrons that are not bound in atoms. In an ionized universe, such electrons have been liberated from neutral atoms by ionizing (ultraviolet) radiation. Today these free charges are at sufficiently low density in most of the volume of the Universe that they do not measurably affect the CMB. However, if the IGM was ionized at very early times when the universe was still denser, then there are two main effects on the CMB:

    1. Small scale anisotropies are erased (just as when looking at an object through fog, details of the object appear fuzzy).
    2. The physics of how photons scatter off free electrons (Thomson scattering) induces polarization anisotropies on large angular scales. This large angle polarization is correlated with the large angle temperature perturbation.

    So if we can ionize (removing charged particles such as electrons) parts of the CBR around us it will change the ripples (small scale anisotropies) in the areas around our galaxies
    There have already been machines built that have been able to do massive scale ionization on earth. This was done in the hopes of being able to control the weather and is called atmospheric ionization.


    Looking back on this project, I feel confident regardless of the praise or criticism that it received, that it was completed in the spirit of the assignment for this class. Realistically, in my opinion, no other project particularly addressed the original goal of this class. In any case, I feel that this project was successful in that we offered a potential solution for extraterrestrial communication.

    The biggest obstacle we faced with this project was how we would communicate or convey a message with such “aliens” if we actually made contact. By stripping the “message” or “beacon” of the Lighthouse Project down to just a signal itself, we simplified the project and thus the meaning behind it. One has to ask him or herself, what would the reaction of a distant civilization be if they received a signal with a message? Humans on earth for example, would frantically try to decode the message to make sure there was no imminent hostility, rather than try to locate where the signal came from. Where as if instead, we received a signal that was stripped of any apparent message, we’d immediately look for the signal’s source, and try to make contact with it.

    The other huge question we had to answer with this project was who or what would fund the project? We were throwing around ideas of certain governments (like Dubai, US, etc), certain corporations (such as Google, VW, etc), and also non-profit organizations (Paul Allen Foundation,, etc). However the problem that arose for us was that each of those potential solutions would severely corner us into the narrative of whatever entity we chose. As a result, I suggested using a model that received donations from a multitude of sources, albeit primarily multi-national corporations. This would free us from the background or known history of one particular corporation, and instead let us focus on the direction we wanted for The Lighthouse Project as its own independent entity.

    In response to some of criticism we received from Rene and Rebecca regarding the meaning and motive of the project, I feel like they (Rene in particular) were partially missing the overall gesture of the project. Rather than committing a largely disruptive act such as sending a message-laden signal, which is similar to spraying graffiti on a wall, we wanted to achieve something reconstructive or rejuvenating by creating a message-free uniform pattern, like repainting a wall.

    While at the end of the day I would have preferred to have done a traditional product branding project, similar to what the “Water” group ended up doing anyway, I feel that The Lighthouse Project evolved into something that could stand on its own based on its concept and message. My biggest disappointment with the way the project (and class) turned out is that there is little interaction with the traditional brand consumer, who I had hoped to learn methods of communication for. While we have accommodated for the individuals not part of the sponsorship program by allowing the download of The Lighthouse Application, their interaction is secondary and inconsequential to the project. I don’t particularly think that this is a limitation or downside of the project, but a byproduct of the nature of the funding of the project. After all, a project of this magnitude couldn’t realistically hope to be funded solely (or even significantly) by individuals.

    In conclusion, I think the greatest things I took away from this project were the good times (and the long hours) I spent with my group developing (and discarding) ideas. Fred, Camile, Brian, Brittany, Jono, and I have always been close friends during our four years in D|MA, but this class “forced” us to really understand the way each other thought about certain ideas, and as a result, allowed us to become more open-minded designers.

    Thu, Mar 20, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: lighthouse
    Sent to project: The Voyager update project
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    After co-founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, Paul Allen went on to amass one of the largest fortunes in the world (currently ranked 19th with $18 billion net worth).

    While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has witnessed a giant expansion thanks largely to the multibillion dollar contributions by the Gates' and Warren Buffett, the direction of that foundation is primarily one designed to stimulate growth and equality around the world, and to improve the quality of life.

    Allen, by contrast, started the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to further concepts that he believes in. The foundation does aim to transform individual lives and strengthen communities, but chooses to do so by fostering innovation, creating knowledge, and promoting social progress

    The interest Allen and his foundation take in science and technology is encouraging and makes them a particularly promising candidate for funding the Beacon. The Allen Telescope Array was constructed in cooperation with the SETI project and the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering illustrates the commitment towards "future-minded" research.

    Allen was also the sole investor in the SpaceShipOne suborbital commercial spacecraft, which completed the first privately funded human space flight in 2004. This landmark project was also the winner of the Ansari X Prize in 2004.
    Wed, Feb 13, 2008  Permanent link

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    Basically all electromagnetic waves (EM) travel at the speed of light c (~ 670 million miles/hour). It takes roughly 1.2 seconds for a ray of light to travel from the Earth to the Moon. This means that pretty much any type of radiation humans can emit or modify, whether it is light, radio-waves, microwaves, cosmic background radiation, x-rays, or gamma rays, it will travel at the speed of light.

    The distance that a particular wave can travel while retaining its integrity is variable depending on the power that it is broadcast or beamed with. The common notion that episodes of Leave it to beaver or Matlock are out there in space forever, to be discovered by Ignignoc and his alien friends 500 light years from now is largely an exaggeration. The intensity with which most TV and Radio programs are broadcast would allow them to travel a cosmic distance about as far as Neptune's orbit before the signal degraded to unintelligible static. Furthermore, most if not all of these programs are broadcast with omni-directional antennas that are designed to distribute signals in multiple directions to reach a large number of people.

    To reach beyond the "Neptune Barrier", a signal would have to be transmitted in a uni-directional fashion, allowing for a far more concentrated signal. However as desired range increases, the power needed to transmit waves grows exponentially. The "inverse-square law" of physics states that intensity is decreased by the square of the distance from the source of the signal. This means that if a source such as cosmic background radiation is propagating to a certain distance, if I were to double the distance between source and target, the propagation would be only one quarter as intense.

    In any case, while the speed of light is very fast by Earthbound standards, Electromagnetic Radiation emitted from the Earth would still take tens, hundreds, or even thousands of Earth years to reach potential systems with life if it were traveling at the speed of light. These are some of the most promising nearby stars, and are being targeted by SETI with the Allen Telescope Array and NASA's TPF (Terrestrial Planet Finder).

    Beta Canum Venaticorum is a Sun-like star about 26 light years away in the constellation Canes Venatici. HD10307 is a near replica of the Sun but with a companion star. Located about 42 light-years away, this star has almost the same mass, temperature and metal-content as the Sun. Epsilon Indi A is only about one-tenth as bright as the Sun and about 11.8 light-years away in the constellation Indus. Epsilon Eridani is a bit smaller and cooler than our Sun; it is located about 10.5 light-years away in the constellation Eridanus. Omicron2 Eridani is a yellow-orange star about 16 light-years away that is roughly the same age as our Sun. Alpha Centauri B is a triple star system is located just 4.35 light-years away and one of the Sun's closest stellar neighbors.

    Mon, Feb 4, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: lighthouse
    Sent to project: The Voyager update project
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