Swinburne and Lexus broadcast a message to space

Tuesday 21 May 2019

People using a laptop with a soundwave on screen.

Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing encoded a messaged into the sound of a Lexus engine.

In summary

  • Swinburne and Lexus send a message into space
  • Message is a Lexus engine sound encoded to include a welcome to alien life
  • Broadcast into space from largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere

Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing (CAS) has partnered with car manufacturer Lexus to send a message into the depths of space in the hopes of reaching alien life. 

As part of an exclusive partnership with the luxury car brand, CAS encoded an engine sound into an audio waveform that was then transmitted into space as part of what Lexus are calling the ‘Intergalactic Test Drive’. 

The message, a welcome to potential aliens, was beamed into space from the largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope (UTMOST) - located on the outskirts of Canberra, ACT.

Swinburne and Lexus staff on a camera monitor.
The message was broadcast from the Molonglo Observatory Synthesis Telescope near Canberra.

Made from the sound of the Lexus RC F’s V8 engine, the transmission of the message coincides with the Lexus RC F coupe featuring in the new film Men In Black: International.

Broadcasting the message

The radio telescope facility, owned and operated by the University of Sydney, is used to listen to the galaxy, but was modified to allow the message to be beamed directly towards Orion’s Belt - a callback to the original Men In Black film.

The crafting of the intergalactic invitation saying: “New Lexus RC F. Earth. We’ve been expecting you," was led by Swinburne’s Professor Matthew Bailes with help from Swinburne’s astrophysics team and the on-campus supercomputer, OzStar.

Lexus car at UTMOST near Canberra.
The engine noise from a Lexus engine was encoded with a welcome message for alien life. 

“We're experts at listening to and decoding the naturally occurring radio transmissions from neutron stars, but Lexus wanted us to invert that process,” says Professor Bailes.

“We had to find a solution that was both technically feasible, adhered to radio transmission regulations and didn't blow up our telescope. In a few thousand years we'll find out if anyone has heard it.”

The search for alien customers

Lexus Australia says this message is intended to show how far the company will go to anticipate the needs of everyone - and anything - that’s out there. 

“The Lexus brand is proud of anticipating the needs of its customers before they’ve communicated them, and we are excited to take that philosophy beyond Earth to new worlds in an innovative partnership while showcasing one of our most evocative powerplants,” says Scott Thompson, Lexus Australia chief executive.

Full length content from The Intergalactic Test Drive and further details about the concept will be revealed in the lead up to the 13 June release of the Men In Black: International.