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The insider's guide to talking to aliens

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(CNN) -- A laser time capsule is to be beamed into space from the the top of a pyramid in Mexico in a bid to make contact with extra-terrestrial life. Here's all you need to know about our ongoing efforts to prove we are not alone.

Talking to aliens... giant lasers... Mexican pyramids... Are Elvis, Lee Harvey Oswald and some giant shape-shifting lizards are involved as well?

No conspiracy theories necessary. Between October 25 and 27 a time capsule will be beamed into space from the ancient Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico, via a continuous laser beam that will "travel through infinity," according to organizers Yahoo!. A copy will also be stored for posterity by the Smithsonian Global Sound Project, just in case it gets lost out there.

I suppose they've chosen a pyramid because it was built by aliens.

The idea that ancient civilizations were assisted and influenced in their construction projects by extra-terrestrial visitors enjoyed popularity following the publication in 1968 of "Chariots of the Gods?" by the controversial Swiss author Erich von Daniken. But, despite the efforts of the Fortean Times, The X-Files and the rest of the conspiracy theory cottage industry, von Daniken's ideas have been robustly discredited by legitimate scientists and historians. Teotihuacan dates back to around 100 BC, predating both Maya and Aztec civilizations, although the Pyramid of the Sun was only completed some three centuries later.

And what is going into this time capsule of humanity. Paris Hilton, Kim Jong Il, annoying ring tones, e-mail spam?

Sadly not. The capsule is an electronic collection of data, or a "digital mosaic of humanity," as Yahoo! prefers to call it. That means photos, videos, sounds and drawings. Anyone with an Internet connection can contribute to the project -- visit its homepage hereexternal link.

And what's gone in so far?

Mostly lots of pictures of babies, pets and loved ones along with a few arty holiday snaps of sunrises, sunsets and waterfalls. Let's hope the aliens don't waste too much time trying to decipher the "Beer is fun" message left by one contributor.

Sounds like a dull evening in store for somebody. This isn't the first time we've tried to get in touch with extra terrestrials is it?

No. The ongoing Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence scans the skies constantly for radio signals that may have originated from alien civilizations elsewhere in the universe. Much of the work of analyzing the data recorded is now done as part of the SETI@home project which uses the space capacity of more than five million home PCs volunteered by the owners. You can sign up your computer hereexternal link.

Any chance of reaching them more directly?

The NASA Pioneer 10 and 11 missions, launched in the early 1970s and now out of contact somewhere beyond the Solar System both bore plaques containing handy information about the location of the earth and the Solar System, a diagram of a hydrogen atom and anatomically censored drawings of a man and a woman. More ambitiously, Voyager 1 and 2, both launched in 1977, carried a "golden record" featuring sounds and images of earth including whale songs, spoken greetings in languages including the ancient Akkadian tongue, Azerbaijani bagpipe music and Peruvian panpipes.

Let's hope our friends in space haven't moved onto CD players or mp3s. Any word back?

Not yet -- still waiting...

Maybe they just don't like world music...

To be fair, scientists aren't expecting to hear anything anytime soon. It will take the Voyager craft around 40,000 years to reach another star, meaning that even if our nearest alien neighbors reply by return of post it's still going to take slightly longer than the average postcard. But as popular astronomer Carl Sagan, one of the driving influences behind the ongoing search for extra terrestrial life, said, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet."


The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, from where a laser beam will be projected into space later this month.



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