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Out of this world idea
by Bill Clough
Apr 04, 2014 | 78 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This dish was used to send Twitter like messages into space. Students in the Coastal Bend College’s STEM club did it as a benefit for their club charging $2 per message.

Bill Clough photo
This dish was used to send Twitter like messages into space. Students in the Coastal Bend College’s STEM club did it as a benefit for their club charging $2 per message. Bill Clough photo
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BEEVILLE – When it comes to fundraisers, count on the Coastal Bend College’s STEM club to come up with something unique.

Forget the bake sales and the car washes.

How about charging $2 to send a message to space?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

About two months ago, the club’s 18 members decided to use all the disciplines of their club’s title to accomplish just that.

First order of business: finding a parabolic dish to focus the signal. With the help of the club’s sponsor, Dr. Robert Benson, they found a large dish “rusting away in a farmer’s field near Katy,” Benson remembers.

Second: a transmitter. Because the club did not have the money or the time to obtain a license for a higher-power transmitter, they had to use a low-power transmitter, so low that the FCC doesn’t bother with them.

“Any alien out there would really have to dig our signal out of the noise,” Benson says, laughing.

But even low-power radio transmissions are enhanced by the large dish.

Third: What mode of transmission and what frequency? “It transmits on the FM band,” Benson explained. “We had to find an quiet spot on the dial, a place that wasn’t being used.”

Fourth: How would the messages be sent? By voice? No, Benson said, something more basic: Morse code.

“The students write their message—up to 140 characters. We check them to make sure there are no obscenities. The message then is typed into a laptop which has a program to convert the letters into Morse code.

The whole project, from dish to delivery, took about two months. The messages to space began to be transmitted Wednesday, March 26.

Fifth: Where to locate the dish? Answer, right outside the Student Union Building, a logical choice for student traffic.

Sixth: Finally, how much?

The club decided $2 a message.

At day’s end, it had raised around $120.

“This was all in fun,” Benson says. “We sent out a lot of messages just for fun. We all started to wear tinfoil hats.”

Club members presented each student who sent a message with a paper documenting where their message might be heard.

Each message, it said, traveling at the speed of light—186,000 miles a second—would reach Mars in 12.7 minutes, Jupiter in 43 minutes, Saturn in 1.3 hours, Uranus in 2.7 hours and to Neptune in 4.2 hours.

The message will also travel to the nearest star to our own, Proxima Centauri, in 4.2 years. Allowing for a little processing—such as learning both English and Morse Code, the earliest the student would expect to receive an answer would be in March 2022.

An insight into the earth’s culture may be gleaned from one of the messages sent Wednesday. “Brush, floss and be happy. Love, Dental Hygiene.”

Proxima Centaurians, four years from now, who might be listening with a similar dish, but one perhaps half-a-planet wide, which just might be pointing toward the CBC Student Union Building, perhaps would discern:

_... ._. .._ ... ....

.._. ._.. _ _ _ ... ...

._ _. _..

_... .

.... ._ ._ _. ._ _. _._ _

._.. _ _ _ ..._ .

_.. . _. _ ._ ._..

.... _._ _ _ _. .. . _. .

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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