A graduating Contemporary Art Practice – MFA/MA student, Paul Quast, has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) to send an interstellar “message in a bottle” to the North Star.

It began as a curiosity about the light from the star that takes 434 years to reach Earth, and whether Earth could send a response back. This grew into the project “A Simple Response to an Elemental Message”. Through his website, Paul has been asking people around the world for their answers to the question “How will our present environmental interactions shape the future?”, and these answers will be packaged up and sent into deep space as a radio message from Cebreros in Spain.

The research for the project has included investigations into radio astronomy, the significance of the North Star (Polaris), interstellar radio messages, and climate change. The research included a trip to the Arctic Circle in December 2015. The expedition gave Paul the opportunity to observe the movements of Polaris from the Northern celestial pole, to better predict where it will be in relation to the Earth in 434 years’ time when the message should reach it.

“Throughout the centuries, mankind has looked towards the North Star as a navigation tool. It’s always been a beckoning in the sky,” he said, “Originally the project started as a kind of poetic response to [its] light.”

“The contributions have originated from around 120 different territories or countries,” said Paul, “I have quite a few highlights. For example, we’ve had a series of submissions from someone who is providing Mark Twain quotes that act as a response to the question. We’ve also had a few from Antarctica – you know it’s come from Antarctica because in the ‘Town or City’ field on the form it’ll be written down as latitude and longitude coordinates.”

“There’s a peninsula off the top of Russia, and someone there has decided to contribute a message about the decline of the polar bear population in that region as a result of climate change, which is something this initiative is themed on.”

The submission deadline is the 1st of August, and the final message is due to be sent in October 2016. “Hopefully I’ll be there to see it off!” said Paul.

The research and project is being conducted in collaboration with partners at:

  • ASCUS Art & Science, Summerhall, Edinburgh
  • Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain
  • John Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
  • The Department of Astronomy & Physics, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada
  • The European Southern Observatory, Garching, Germany
  • The European Space Agency
  • The University of Potsdam, Germany
  • UK Astronomy Technology Centre & The Royal Observatory of Edinburgh