Confirmed: Big Dipper to Get Doritos

ENJOY DORITOS! This is one of the EISCAT radio transmitters that sent the Doritos commercial into space. EISCAT/Frank PR

Okay, it’s true. A European astronomy group indeed beamed a Doritos commercial into space yesterday. I received confirmation, overnight, from the Frito-Lay people via a public relations firm they deal with in Britain. The star system targeted to receive this missive from Earth: 47 Ursae Majoris, located in the constellation that most of us know as the Big Dipper.


Powerful radio transmitters located north of the Arctic Circle and operated by EISCAT (for the European Incoherent Scatter scientific association) broadcast the video. Traveling at the speed of light, the transmission would have zoomed a distance equal to the moon’s separation from us in “a bit over a second,” and passed out of our solar system within hours, notes EISCAT director Tony van Eyken.


In the ongoing search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, known as the SETI project, astronomers have been listening intently against the backdrop of noise for possible transmissions that exhibit intelligence. Says van Eyken on behalf of Earth’s SETI teams: “We’d be really excited to receive that signal, so I believe that the aliens should be equally excited.”


You can see him describe his excitement over the Doritos Broadcast Project in his own video. My copy was emailed to me, but you can see it on YouTube. It’s been produced with background music more than a little reminiscent of the X-Files theme.


Some 40 years from now, last night’s Doritos transmission should be entering 47 Ursae Majoris. This star system hosts at least two Jupiter-size planets, which van Eyken warns “won’t have life on them as we know it.” There should be a “habitable zone around that star,” however, “So there is a good chance that there could be an Earthlike planet in that zone.”


Which leads van Eyken to ponder: If that planet is inhabited, how would its “alien race” respond to the video of a Doritos sacrifice to the god of salsa? “I hope they’ll be really excited by it, because this will be a signal which is obviously not random. It didn’t just appear naturally out of the universe. It has some intelligence behind it.”


Uh, yeah . . . But is this the best we can offer up? It’s not that I don’t think comedy is an appropriate ambassador for human culture. But I would have opted for a scene from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 MGM classic, Ninotchka. Or even a snippet from the 1988 baseball gem Bull Durham. And if we have to venerate a snack food, how about those cute M&Ms? At least they represent an essential food group: Chocolate.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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