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Now there’s an inventory for all the stuff we’ve hurled into space to get aliens’ attention

Contributed by
Nov 21, 2018

Doritos come-ons, a Klingon opera pitch, a LEGO statuette of Galileo, and more: For decades, little random artifacts of our gloriously trashy culture have been slung into orbit, in humanity’s fervent hope that at least one of our little messages in a space bottle will wash up at the feet of an inquisitive alien civilization.

Until recently, accounting for the long list of Earthly detritus that’s made its way skyward in our young, faltering attempts at first contact has been an ad hoc affair, one almost as random and disjointed as the odd variety of crap we’ve been hurling into the heavens. But now one amateur researcher and space enthusiast is aiming to change that, by taking a full inventory of the physical human artifacts that, so far as we know, continue to sail through the vastness.

Explaining to Atlas Obscura that, “at the very least, we should know what we’ve sent out,” Paul Quast, who leads the nonprofit Beyond the Earth Foundation, is heading up an effort to “catalog every cultural artifact and intentional message humans have launched or beamed into space,” according to the report.

The fruits so far in that ongoing effort are now available in a remarkably deep-diving report published in the International Journal of Astrobiology. The project includes the big stuff you’d expect, like the famous gold-plated records that bear Earth’s tidings on Voyagers 1 and 2. But the full manifest of all the weird objects we keep blasting into space, all in the name of enticing the right kind of alien attention, includes some smaller, and pretty bizarre, highlights.

Audiovisuals capturing amazingly specific flashpoints in pop history are especially prominent, including 2006 footage of Romanian gymnasts in action, a theremin concert, a “picture of rice dumplings and tea,” a copy of Across the Universe accompanied by a handwritten message from Paul McCartney, an invitation to the Star Trek opera in Klingon, and a Doritos ad.

And if some E.T. out there has the advanced capability to replicate a human being from a single strand of DNA, the one they’ll be cloning — for some reason — is Stephen Colbert, whose genetic info is hurtling through the galaxy, encoded on a microchip, as we speak.

Beyond the Earth makes a strong case for the significance of the curated cultural messages we send into space, noting they bear a very different kind of information about who we are than mere radio signals do. The “intelligible signature of humanity can be considered an integral, physical property of the Earth system; an artificial field of intelligent design surrounding our planet,” the foundation argues.

At least someone’s keeping track of it all. Head on over the the foundation’s web page to learn more about its “companion guide to Earth” — before this eclectic list gets much longer.


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