Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/12/01/bereavement_messages/

Space firm to send Christmas Day tweets to dead people

Is there anybody out there? Let's hope not

By Joe Fay

Posted in Bootnotes, 1st December 2009 13:36 GMT

Bereaved Brits desperate to send a message to their departed loved ones this Christmas could instead simply alert hostile aliens to our tenuous Earthly existence.

The Bereavement Register - a useful service to help bereaved families avoid being deluged with junk mail and cold calls targeted at their dead relatives - is offering the chance to beam into space "a personal message in remembrance of someone who has died".

The Bereavement Register will forward the messages to "Our broadcast service provider, Deep Space Communications Network (DSCN)... located next to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA".

DCN will then squirt out all the messages on Christmas Day, "as a single data package into an area of deep space where there are no known satellites".

This will be done using "state-of-the-art broadcasting equipment (inclusive of redundant, high-powered klystron amplifiers connected by a travelling wave-guide to a five-meter parabolic dish antenna)".

While the service may have an appeal to bereaved folk looking to feel a connection to their dear departeds at a particularly difficult time of the year, it ignores the obvious dangers of sending random messages out into deep space.

Just two years ago, a brace of space thinkers - Michael Michaud, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Science and Technology, and Dr John Billingham, former chief of the NASA SETI office - expressed their dismay at the active SETI initiative.

Michaud said it was "a deliberate attempt to provoke a response by an alien civilization whose capabilities, intentions, and distance are not known to us". Such initiatives should be a matter of government policy, he said, not left to madcap scientists with access to a satellite dish.

The fact that the Bereavement Register is restricting messages to a Twitter-style 140 characters gives further cause for concern, as any life form that picks up the message is likely to take one look and write us off as a non-intelligent life form ripe for harvesting. ®