Gliese 51d planetDecades after Roswell allegedly gave house room to an alien and Indiana greeted the arrival of extraterrestrials in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, those curious about what other life forms may exist on other planets are being given the chance to try and make electronic contact.

Reuters reports that until 24 August, visitors to Australian website www.HelloFromEarth.net are being offered the chance to send a short message to cyberspace and beyond.

"What's interesting is not just whether there's anyone listening, but what the public will say to intelligent life on another planet," project spokesperson Wilson da Silva told the news agency.

Australian science minister Kim Carr tapped out the first 160-character message to launch the project. "Hello from Australia on the planet we call Earth. These messages express our people's dreams for the future. We want to share those dreams with you," his message said.

The messages will be directed at Gliese 581d - the planet most like Earth and therefore considered most likely to support life. NASA and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex are overseeing the project, which is being run as part of Australia's National Science Week.

It may be 20 years before missives sent from Down Under are delivered and at least as long again before any reply arrives. Still, it's not unknown for postcards to turn up decades after they were sent...

Gliese 51d planet

Image of Earth-like planet Gliese 51d, courtesy of Astroprofspage.com