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How to Design an Interstellar Communications System

By Technology Review

February 18, 2014

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University of California, Berkeley professor David Messerschmitt is studying the design of end-to-end communications between stellar systems that could enable communication with other civilizations.

Interstellar communications are limited by the power of signals, Messerschmitt says. If energy is a limiting factor for a civilization, an interstellar transmitter would be designed to minimize a signal's energy per bit. A communications system also would have to resolve any problems with transmitting signals through the interstellar medium, because some wavelengths tend to be absorbed while others are not. The interstellar medium, for example, is essentially transparent to most of the microwave spectrum. An interstellar communications system also should be simply designed, because greater complexity in the mode of transmission reduces the probability the system will match the receiver.

Messerschmitt says sending broadband signals in the microwave part of the spectrum seems the simplest strategy. Although his criteria reduce the potential signals to transmit or monitor, some experts say alien civilizations would probably be far more advanced than Earth, with interstellar communication technology that we could not comprehend.

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