Instruments to Make Music With Aliens: Gamma Ray Bells and Gravitational Wave Cellos

Experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats is playing some crazy cosmic vibes

5 min read
Jonathon Keats founded Intergalactic Omniphonics to build instruments that enable jam sessions with aliens.
Jonathon Keats founded Intergalactic Omniphonics to build instruments that enable jam sessions with aliens.
Photo: University of North Carolina-Asheville

Sure, humans have tried before to communicate with any extraterrestrials who might be out there. Most notably, the two Voyager probes that launched in 1977 both carry a copy of the golden record, a trove NASA intended to communicate “a story of our world” with images, nature sounds, music, and spoken greetings. Voyager 1 has already left our solar system and is venturing out into interstellar space with its record, and Voyager 2 is following not far behind. 

But experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats says that if we really want to convince aliens to make first contact, we should do more than just tell them our story. “If you’re in a bar and hear someone who just keeps talking about themselves, it gets annoying,” he says. “I’m trying to make something that’s more universal and more inclusive. Something that’s not only about us, but also the connection that we have to them—whoever they are.”

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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