Alien call puts Earth on hold

20.01.43: SCIENCE-FICTION writers have been dreaming of this for a century: the moment when we pick up a radio broadcast from an extraterrestrial civilisation and discover we are not alone in the cosmos.

Well, it has finally happened. Amateur astronomers involved in SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, announced today that a "narrow-band modulated" signal was picked up a week ago by a retired electrical engineer in Toronto.

In a live netcast, Li-Zhi Fang, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: "Without doubt, this is the most important day in the history of the human race."

Tomorrow, the UN sits in emergency session to discuss whether the human race should broadcast a reply and, if so, what the content should be.

The ET broadcast, which appears to come from no known star, lasts 93 minutes 14 seconds and repeats every four and three-quarter hours.

So far, only the first 58 seconds has been decoded. But even this small portion contains a bombshell that has rocked 21st-century science to its foundations.

According to Arecibo astronomer Dr Max von Weiszacker, the message begins with a string of binary numbers representing the "fundamental constants" of physics.

"The thing we noticed was that the values given in the message are subtly different from the values we know," said von Weiszacker.

"Whoever sent the message cannot be in the universe which we see around us," he added.

The consensus is that it all makes sense if there is far more to reality than we ever imagined. The message in the ET signal appears to be that our universe is merely one among an infinity of universes - a "multiverse".

"This has altered our entire view of the universe; as much as Copernicus did in shifting Earth from the centre of creation," said von Weiszacker. MC