Last evening’s University Challenge threw up a question, which I only half caught as I was in the kitchen preparing supper, and that I (consequently?) got wrong. Something like, Which Beatles’ song… has been transmitted… into space…? My immediate response was All You Need is Love, which they performed for the first ever live satellite link-up broadcast, or some such, in 1967, and thus has a 41-year (albeit direction-less) head start on the correct answer – Across the Universe – which was beamed away earlier this year towards the North Star.

I used to live in Newcastle, and recall being in a pub watching that (real) city’s football team, playing Middlesbrough, ‘live’ on Sky TV, amused by how images of a then planetoidal Gazza were being broadcast from a location just a mile-and-a-half away, but reaching my senses via a satellite in space. But not all the signal will have been received, amplified and re-directed back to earth. Some of it is still electromagnetically radiating ‘out there’, among all the other stuff.

Yoko attempted gravitas: “I see that this is the beginning of the new age in which we will communicate with billions of planets across the universe.” However, being as how this planet has been crackling away like an interstellar beacon for some time now, one could say that process has long since been underway. Inverse square law vs. non-attenuating vacuum considerations aside, communication requires something sophisticated enough to be able to receive and discern it. And if the recipients are that advanced, I imagine they’ll likely already be well familiar with The Beatles, and may well, like me, ask, ‘Why did they choose that one, then? (‘Across the Universe’, yeah, bit obvious.) I’d have plumped for I Am the Walrus meself. Or they might have used Bowie’s version, which is better’. And they’ll also have footage of Gazza at his best.

4 responses to “Universality

  1. Even more fascinating are the ‘hard copies’ we’ve been sending out to the stars.
    Take Carl Sagan’s Golden Record. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart…Chuck Berry. And the timeless words of Jimmy Carter:

    This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.

  2. Very nice post, Lee.
    On a not entirely tangential theme, I was tickled by a paper in last week’s Nature reporting the observation of a “light echo” that had bounced off some interstellar dust from a supernova that was first observed by Tycho Brahe in 1572 and is only now reaching the earth…!
    This is a topic that has engaged me before and it was slightly spooky to read in a 2008 Nature paper about observations that contradict Aristotle…!

  3. Matt – wonder whether they also sent instructions for building something to play it on, as per Sagan’s Contact?
    Stephen – Ahh, Tycho Brahe, what a big-shouldered (metal-nosed) giant he was. Enjoyed reading about him (and Kepler) in Banville’s Prague Pictures.
    Contradict Aristotle? Or reinterpret?

  4. @Lee – thanks for the steer to Banville’s book on Prague. I didn’t know about it at all. Shall be adding it to my list. And then perhaps I’ll have to make the journey myself…
    Contradict, I think… Aristotle’s view of the immutability of the heavens was refuted by Brahe’s observation of an exploding star. But I’m no expert on the ancients or astronomy.


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