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Communications Space

After 35 Years, Another Message Sent From Arecibo 249

Posted by timothy
from the but-that's-an-aphone dept.
0xdeadbeef writes "Two weeks ago, MIT artist-in-residence Joe Davis used the Arecibo radio telescope to send a message to three stars in honor of the 35th anniversary of the famous Drake-Sagan transmission to M13 in 1974. It was apparently allowed but not endorsed by the director of the facility, and used a jury-rigged signal source on what will now be known as the 'coolest iPhone in the world.' The message encoded a DNA sequence, but no word yet on whether it disabled any alien shields. You can get the low-down on Centauri Dreams: Part 1, Part 2."
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After 35 Years, Another Message Sent From Arecibo

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  • And it was (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 2.7182 (819680) on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:20PM (#30198934)
    Send More Funding
  • by orkysoft (93727) <[moc.xoblaerym] [ta] [tfosykro]> on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:27PM (#30198986) Journal

    We are very tasty snacks! Here, have our DNA, and grow some appetizers for the long journey!

    • Since ET already gets all our TV transmissions, plus cell phones and wifi, I don't think this one will make much difference.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Since ET already gets all our TV transmissions, plus cell phones and wifi, I don't think this one will make much difference.

        Check out Radio Astronomy by Kraus. The end of one of the chapters discusses the relative signal strength of various earth transmissions. From memory, planetary radar was by far the strongest, the AM modulated video carrier of old fashioned analog UHF TV transmitters came in second (of course they're shut down now, and the "peak" from ATSC is not nearly as impressive).

        Cell towers are actually pretty low power, your typical EMS land mobile is much more impressive (think of what you hear on a police scanner

  • Practical joke (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dachshund (300733) on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:36PM (#30199064)

    Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication. It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

    • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:44PM (#30199108)

      Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication. It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

      But if they do figure it out, we'll get a message a century from now: "Delicious! Do you have any other recipes?"

      • by ChipMonk (711367)
        Then we send them a decoded copy of "To Serve Man."
      • Re:Practical joke (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShakaUVM (157947) on Monday November 23, 2009 @01:02AM (#30199506) Homepage Journal

        >>But if they do figure it out, we'll get a message a century from now: "Delicious! Do you have any other recipes?"

        Sadly, people rarely stop to wonder if the messages we're sending into outer space are a good idea. Aliens with a good grasp of game theory might just very well decide to drop a meteor onto any planet they find broadcasting into outer space. You know... just to be sure.

        I actually find it sort of thoughtless that people like this are taking the entire fate of the world into their hands. Dramatic? Not so much, if you really stop to think about it.

        • by couchslug (175151)

          (Earnest frothing ensues.)

          "But, but, we are naive and idealistic! Any other life forms with advanced technology MUST agree with our moral constructs because morality must be universal."

        • by khallow (566160)

          I actually find it sort of thoughtless that people like this are taking the entire fate of the world into their hands. Dramatic? Not so much, if you really stop to think about it.

          I think it's pretty sweet that an artist can with a simple radio transmitter damn all life on Earth. Now that is power. Maybe if you send all your money, he'll let Earth live?

          A simpler solution to the problem is to develop a human civilization that can weather an interstellar attack. We'll want it anyway.

        • Re:Practical joke (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday November 23, 2009 @11:36AM (#30202462) Journal

          Aliens with a good grasp of game theory might just very well decide to drop a meteor onto any planet they find broadcasting into outer space

          If by 'good' you mean 'incredibly poor,' then yes. The response that game theory would dictate to that kind of attack would be a similar (or greater) response. The only way in which a near-C mass[1] attack would be a good plan would be if you could guarantee species annihilation in the first strike. Given that this signal is for starts 100ly away, you'd have to be able to guarantee that, within the next 100 years[2], we would not have any off-planet colonies that would be able to launch a counter attack.

          You'd also have to make sure that there was no evidence of it that was observable from other star systems. The collision would be detectable a long way away, and you'd have to hope that no one else saw it and decided that the galaxy would be better off without a belligerent species like yours in it.

          [2] It would have to be near-C or we'd see it coming and be able to intercept it, and also know who to shoot back at before it got here even if we couldn't destroy it in time.

          [1] Assuming a straight-line projectile. In practice, you'd want to slingshot it around a different star to make it less obvious that you were the originator.

      • There's this one guy who recommends some fava beans, and a nice Chianti.
    • by jipn4 (1367823)

      There's a good chance that this kind of biochemistry is universal; the universe is full of the kind of stuff that our DNA and proteins are made from, but we haven't observed a lot of other complex chemicals elsewhere.

    • Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication.

      But it is probably also the -best- practical joke in -our-history of interstellar communication. How many other interstellar practical jokes have we played?

      It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

      It might just be a lack of imagination on my part, but I can't picture an organism evolving without some type of intrinsic code. If we got such a code, we'd probably realize that it was something similar to nucleotide sequences and that we didn't have all the tools to do anything with it.

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      The message is irrelevant, there's only so much they can learn from us even if they understand the message. What really matters is that they know we're there somewhere up in the sky.

      What puzzles me is that we do it once every 35 years for a few minutes, yet the rest of the time we spend it carefully listening, as if aliens would do what we do not do, which is actively trying to communicate with them. They won't pick up a damn thing unless we beam it to them specifically, so if they're as dumb as us and on

  • The message (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:44PM (#30199110)

    Dear citizens of Centauri. I have a large sum of gold, 300 metric tons, I need to move off planet. If you'll deposit a small transfer fee, 3 metric tons of gold, in a local bank I will make arrangements to ship the gold to you. Signed crowned prince of Iowa.

    • If you'll deposit a small transfer fee, 3 metric tons of gold, in a local bank

      Okay here it is.

      CRASH...

  • Ok really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday November 22, 2009 @11:58PM (#30199192)
    Ok, I understand the "coolness" factor of radio transmissions to the stars, but in the end are they all wasted money? I mean, chances are another Hubble mixed with other probes can find where there is other life faster, quicker and easier than radio telescopes. We've been trying these for ages and they haven't picked up anything. So why not spend research money doing things that we know are going to work. Plus, its a whole lot more probable that we will find non-intelligent life throughout the universe than intelligent life. Even if we find life outside earth with the technology level of 1700s earth, they won't be picking up these signals and really for all but the last 100 years, humans wouldn't have been able to pick up this signal. So quit messing around with radio signals and find possible planets for life.
    • Another big problem is that for radio astronomy to work in finding alien signals, we must count on stability of civilizations on both ends to make it work, which history shows to be wishful thinking. If aliens do pick up this message and response, who's to say that by the time the response gets here we will have any resources at all to pick it up due to some war or other nonsense or having merely forgot or lost interest about such things over time. The same would seem to apply to the other end(s). Also, man
      • by pelrun (25021)

        Actually establishing communication is a secondary goal - just detecting incidental radio output of an alien civilisation would be a monumental discovery. That said, it does require both sides to have radio capability. So it's probably unlikely that we'll see anything if there are/were only a couple of other inhabited planets out there, but if instead the universe has a lot of life in it, we may get lucky and be in the right place and time to see *one*. If we aren't looking, then even that possibility is wa

        • Stars are immensely more powerful, generally point sources than radio telescopes. So while not optimal at all for long range transmission we can still see their image.(after quite a bit of work, knowing or at least suspecting what we are trying to resolve the image to) So again, you are solely reliant on the antenna gain you get with a telescope array to be able to reliably transmit information over long distance, and this gain is only valid for free space or similar attenuation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by joe_frisch (1366229)

      I hope its a waste of money, but there is a tiny chance it is a lot worse: something listening might actually be able to come here. Historically when the "guys on the ships" meet the "guys on the shore", the guys on the shore don't do very well. One could also make an argument that if you detect an alien culture, your best bet is to launch a relativistic bomb (or the information equivalent).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      Sure, although on the other hand there's only so many ways we could be able to detect any eventual technological civilisation, so we might as well try them. I mean think about it, optical systems aren't yet able to resolve a body the size of Earth even if it was around a nearby star, and our probes might find basic life on Mars, in Europe or on Titan, but even if they do that'll be some microbiology crap. If there's some dudes (or super smart land-squids) out there in the sky who mastered electricity the on

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by khallow (566160)

      So why not spend research money doing things that we know are going to work.

      "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?"

      - Albert Einstein

  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Monday November 23, 2009 @12:02AM (#30199214)
    I'ma let you finish, but we already got a reply [wikimedia.org] to the original message!
  • Rickroll (Score:5, Funny)

    by arhhook (995275) on Monday November 23, 2009 @12:11AM (#30199258)

    We could have rickrolled them so they could get a taste of our culture!

  • by Scubaraf (1146565) on Monday November 23, 2009 @12:15AM (#30199286)
    Sending out a DNA sequence assumes that the receiver understands a great deal about our planet and the molecular basis of life on it.

    Think about it, even if they understood the message was about DNA, they would have to know our amino acid code in order to interpret it as the template for a protein. A protein that either did not evolve on their world, or evolved in a completely different way.

    In effect, all we saying with this message is that we have advanced enough to recognize that DNA is the basis for life on this planet. Only a sentience that already understood that basis could interpret this message.

    It's akin to someone shouting, "a-squared + b-squared = c-squared!" - out-of-context - in the antarctic. It shows you have learned something, but there either isn't anyone to hear you or they won't understand you unless they knew all about you (and Euclidian geometry) already.
    • Even if we make the assumption of organic life, which isn't far-fetched given all of the awesome self-organizing things organic molecules (biotic or abiotic) can do, we have as yet no reason to assume that nucleic acids will be the information carrier in an alien life form. Even if we do assume that nucleic acids are the information carrier, we have no reason to assume that the genetic code is universal.

      The evolution of the genetic code is perhaps the biggest mystery in the origins of life on Earth. We are

  • by b1t r0t (216468) on Monday November 23, 2009 @12:27AM (#30199350)

    So if you're going to send a message, you have to choose one. What did he choose? The DNA sequence for an enzyme.

    We used Apple's "Speak" option to vocalize the phonetic code which I then recorded on my iPhone. Here is a fragment of the total message, the whole of which can be decoded unambiguously into the gene for RuBisCo:

    Tell me how, exactly, the recipient is going to decode a DNA sequence, even if the basic message can be identified as strings of 2-bit numbers? Not only is DNA specific (as far as we know) to Earth chemistry, but the meanings of the codons, and even the choice to interpret them in triplets is the result of chance evolution on this planet. It's like sending a message in Navajo to Paris, with the assumption that it can be "decoded unambigiously"... because the sender knew what it meant. The meanings of DNA codons are absolutely not a universal constant like binary math is.

    knowyourself riddleoflife amthe riddleoflife amthe amthe riddleoflife riddleoflife

    <facepalm> Not that the choice of words would mean anything to them, but this shows the touchy-feely-ness that goes along with the lack of foresight that was already demonstrated.

    Say what you will about Sagan's message, but at least they put some thought into making a message that gave hints as to how to decode it, rather than just sending some unframed binary mish-mash.

    • [_] They're hoping the aliens will succumb to Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field.
      [_] At our nearest stellar neighbour, Soviet Centaurans serve YOU. (yum yum thx 4 gene seq bzzzt!)
      [_] Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. Your call is important to us. Please stay ...
      [_] What? Can you hear me now? What? Frakking Aldebaran Telephone and Telecommunications! Get me a Droid!
      [_] Get the base ships ready to jump! We've found the 13th colony!
      [_] Oh shit. Spaceballs! Oh well, there goes the galaxy ...
      [_] What, is your planet still there? The highway goes through next wee, you know!
      [_] The .... answer .... is .... 42 .... point .... (click) Your time is up. Please insert another 50 million galactic credits to call again.
      [_] The borg collective are pissed off at how you've portrayed them. They'll be in your area soon to "discuss it." BTW, we're calling first dibs on your planet.
      [_] Sorry, we don't want any illegal aliens in the neighborhood. Please go to another quadrant or we'll have to report you.
      [_] Why did the zhicvben cross the whowde? To get to the other side! Thank you, thank you. I'm here all diurnal-periods-times-7. Try the phizch.
      [_] That is the most odious and obscene collection of insults and violations of universal taboos any alien race has ever sent our way. Prepare to die, earth scum! We will be avenged!

      Let's hope that either they're not there, or they can't hear us if they are, or if they can hear us, they can't reach us, because the odds are that what we'll have is a failure to communicate.

      we can't even communicate properly between spouses - it's an incredible conceit to think we could get it right first time with an alien species, and not break any taboo, or accidently insult them ... of that they'd be friendly.

      Survival of the fittest means that the predators get to the top of the heap. Don't invite predators unless you *know* that you're better able to defend yourself than they are.

    • Its like sending an encoded message that itself is an encoded message ;).

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)

      Not only is DNA specific (as far as we know) to Earth chemistry, but the meanings of the codons, and even the choice to interpret them in triplets is the result of chance evolution on this planet

      We generally suspect this to be true but without other life to compare it to we can't be sure. The thing is there are serious biochemical constraints on what the codons can code for since the tRNA's (chemical structure is related to what amino acid it calls for. Since the tRNA's structure is determined in part by the structure of the messenger RNA which is determined solely by the DNA, there are constraints. They don't look that severe but we don't know.

      We also don't know if there's any serious evolutio

  • That was a tough lesson in dream dispersal.

    Did you read the comments on that dude's blog?

    I'd have added some of my own, but I just didn't have the heart.

    Ouch.

    -FL

  • Given that we didn't beam out the Wikipedia article for the first message, [wikipedia.org] I'm going to try and anticipate what the alien civilization will see it as by deciphering it myself without reading the article first:

    "From top to bottom, the word 'aliens' in white English letters, a purple rock, some Space Invaders, a man with a giant blue head and a staff to his right, some white noise, and a bunch of stars over Planet GMail."

  • Dangerous (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088)

    We have no idea if the receiver is friendly. Based on human behavior, we can roughly guess that at least 10% of any/all intelligent receivers will be agressive. Why broadcast our location with those odds? It's not logical.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by weeeeed (675324)

      Well, because we already broadcast enough, so sending yet another message does not really matter anymore. What I worry is our regular TV programming, which in the eyes of any advanced culture should make earth look like it's populated with some crazy monkeys flinging shit at each other.

      • Regular broadcast is already attenuated so much , that it is virtually indistinguishable from noise a few dozen AU from our planet...
    • by cpghost (719344)
      Whether we imagine aliens to be friend of foe tells a lot about our own perception and mind set. And this perception changed dramatically over the decades up to a point where pop culture (or sci-fi too) overwhelmingly considers aliens to be a threat. It wasn't so earlier. How comes that? Another point to ponder is this: if an alien culture were able to travel faster than light (and receive our signals before they arrived, but let's not be distracted by that), they would also be immensely more advanced than
    • by Dunbal (464142)

      Why broadcast our location with those odds? It's not logical.

      It is logical if you take the position that WE are the agressive ones. Like you pointed out, broadcasting a signal is a sign of confidence - first it shows that we have the technology to do it (note the lack of signals being received from us - perhaps we're the most advanced!) and second that we have the interest to do it, and the confidence to deal with the consequences.

      Now there is a possible scenario

    • "Based on human behavior" how? 1 in 10 of our responses to alien messages have been aggressive? 1 in 10 of humans would lead an interstellar invasion fleet according to polls? I'm curious.

    • Re:Dangerous (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday November 23, 2009 @08:59AM (#30200936)

      Based on human behavior, we can roughly guess that at least 10% of any/all intelligent receivers will be agressive.

      Really want to mess with your head? Try this on for size. Based on human behavior, we can roughly guess that at least 90% of any/all intelligent receivers will believe in some form of supernatural friend in the sky whom runs the whole show. Now how are they going to freak out when a dude in the sky starts talking to them?

      See, now slashdotters whom watch too much BSG are worried about fighting the cylons, but the average (and below average) moron on the street is going to be worried about the supernatural implications.

  • by YourExperiment (1081089) on Monday November 23, 2009 @06:33AM (#30200474)

    You do realise that sending a message with an Apple product is tantamount to declaring war? Goddammit, did you not see that documentary with the MacBook?

  • Again? (Score:4, Funny)

    by jandersen (462034) on Monday November 23, 2009 @07:53AM (#30200706)

    I wonder if we are going to get one back: "Can you keep the ^%£$&^$*$&^ noise down!"

  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Monday November 23, 2009 @10:16AM (#30201580)
    "Can you hear me now?"

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