A project led by a group of NASA scientists that combines art and science called Tree of Life wants to connect the Earth and the cosmos through a song that will last two centuries. And this unusual duo will be transmitted by radio waves between a spacecraft in low Earth orbit and a collection of trees that have been installed to function as a living antenna system.
It sounds straight out of a science fiction movie and becomes more interesting the more you learn about it. In fact, the project began as part of a larger effort to design a potential future spacecraft capable of reaching Proxima B, an exoplanet located 4.2 light-years away. This exoplanet is special in that its temperature is almost like that of Earth – soft enough for liquid water to exist on its surface, suggesting that it may contain life. However, with our current technology, reaching Proxima B would take us approximately 6,300 years, so, as reported by CNET, scientists are looking for improvements that push the boundaries of technological life.
The idea is this: the trees will be equipped with digital sensors that will detect changes in their environment. The custom software will then convert these data points into sound frequencies that will be transmitted to the spacecraft. The ship will then transmit information on its own operational capabilities.
“When the light, water and temperature of a tree change, so do the melody, volume and actual sound of the song,” explained Julia Christensen, president of the Space Song Foundation, which is at the crossroads of science, art, and design, per CNET. “In the short term, we hear changes in the song, when the day turns into night, when the clouds pass over the tree, when the seasons change, and so on. But in the very long run – decades or centuries – we will hear great global climate change and other changes on our planet. “
While the names behind the project could choose virtually any site for the experimental communication system, they chose trees because they would continue to exist for many decades and tell a more comprehensive story of life on Earth.
The spacecraft underlying the experiment, which is expected to run continuously for 200 years, has not yet been built; however, according to Steve Matousek, an advanced concept manager in NASA’s JPL Innovation Lab, the team will begin testing prototypes based on cubesats within the next year. And if all goes according to plan, the first two trees will start signing their songs in New York and Los Angeles.