If Aliens Were Tuning Into Our Television Frequencies…

In a different take on a timeline of television, Abstruse Goose, a web comic, shows us what aliens would be watching if they were able to tune into our television frequencies light years away. It doubly serves as a reminder of how old you are.

[Thanks, Patrick]


  • jeff weir July 17, 2009 at 5:48 am

    That’s a great picture. Bummer, they get to sit through all the re-runs too. Of course, this graphs assumes that they’re not tuning in from HERE…in fact, I suspect that most of our programming is actually dreamt up by aliens…

  • Whenever I see or read something like this, I assume the author or designer knows something about the speed of light, but little about the inverse square law. Those television signals become weaker in a ratio to the square of the distance from the broadcast source. At some point (not all that far away) they are too weak to be distinguished from the background noise of the universe. I find it very doubtful that any possible civilization on Arcturus is monitoring our television transmissions–because the signal by that point is undetectable. I can’t prove this, of course, but I can do a thought experiment. If we assume there are civilizations within a 70 light year distance who could be monitoring our broadcasts, we have to ask the question, why haven’t we picked up any of their broadcasts? I suggest that the answer is the inverse square law. Even if they are there, they are invisible to us…and vice versa.

    • psst, it’s a comic :)

      • And, actually, I believe that we could see the equivalent of the Earth’s strongest transmitter (~1 MW) from 1-few hundred light years away with the best radio telescopes in use today. So the physics of the comic are probably correct, even if the likelihood of such nearby listeners may not be.

    • jeff weir July 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

      RWB – a friend of mine has a good theory re this…he says sure, there’s heaps of life in the universe, but intelligent life tends to snuff itself out quickly shortly after the stage that they invent complicated things like television. So there’s lots of signals flying about the universe, but of relatively short duration, and of rapidly decreasing detectable strength due to the inverse square law.

      So the chance that we’re tuned in and listening right at the same time that someone close by is broadcasting is abount the same probability as the chance that you turn on a TV, flick though all the channels and find quality programming on each and every channel…and no ads whatsoever!

  • I see that aliens are over run with American television just like certain channels here in Britain!!

  • Which goes a long way to explaining why we’ve not heard from ETs – we’re not worth speaking to…

  • Man, that doesn’t leave me much time to build a quantum teleportation device, get to Alpha Centauri, set up a radio telescope array, a television and a couch in time to catch the first season of Arrested Development.

  • Because of the noise generated by the galactic magentic field, no radio or TV signal from Earth can be detected beyond 80-100 light years (depending on direction).
    I hope that helps.