The best way to communicate with aliens? It might be music.

As we wait to see if Betelgeuse will explode, (I’ve been hoping for something like this since I was a kid), our thoughts once again turn to the possibility of alien life. Is someone else out there?

The Alpha Centauri star system seems to be a good bet, especially Proxima b which appears to have at least one planet in the Goldilocks zone.

Should we reach out and say hello? And if so, how?

Back in 1973, we sent something called the Arecibo Message. No one has returned that call. Yet. No one’s called about the Bebo Message sent in 2008. We haven’t heard anything back from the Tromsø Message, which was beamed from Norway in 2017. And it’ll be eons (if ever!) we hear from future alien overlords who manage to intercept the Voyager probes with their Golden Records.

Maybe we’re getting it wrong. Talking to aliens is obviously hard. Maybe instead of showing our galactic neighbours that we understand how an atom of hydrogen flips its magnetic polarity with a frequency of 1,420 MHz, we should just send them some music.

Actually, we’ve already been doing that. For the last 25 years, EDM fans attending the three-day Sónar music festival in Barcelona. In 2018, the festival brought in the Catalonia Institute for Space Studies and the non-profit organization METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to broadcast messages to Luyten’s Star, a red dwarf with at least one planet in the habitable zone. GJ237b (its official name) is one of the closet exoplanets that has a chance of supporting life.

This brings us back to the radar setup in Tromsø, Norway. In 2017 and 2018, they broadcast a Contact-like message featuring the first 33 prime numbers, a quick tutorial on decryption, and then some music created by musicians from Sónar musicians.

These are quick songs–each are only a few seconds long, some based on some algorithms and other connected to principles of chemistry and physics–but should demonstrate that we’re ready to rock and dance.

It could take a bit before we get any kind of reply. Luyten’s Star is 12 light years away, so we shouldn’t expect anything until at least 2040. But wouldn’t it be cool if they sent us their mixtape?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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