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How to Start a Conversation With an Alien January 20, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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How would you convey information to someone faraway if you didn’t speak the same language? Often, we use images. But what if the recipient doesn’t see the same way you do? Or hear the same way? And what if you weren’t exactly sure where your recipient was located or if the message would reach him before the end of your civilization? What then? These are all the questions that New Scientist raises in their exploration of attempts to contact intelligent life in our universe.

For years we have been listening to radio waves and other inter-galactic noise hoping for a message from deep in the cosmos. But after frustrating years of silence, various groups have decided that it is time to send messages into space. Leading the vast attempt is the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, founded in 1984. Despite its somewhat dubious name, the institute has worked on various projects with a long list of well-respected institutions both public and private.

Attempts by SETI and other groups are perhaps most interesting in the way they are constructed, often building off mathematics with the idea that this is the only truly universal language. Once the mathematical concepts are understood, more complex messages can be decoded such as what humans look like, or something more complex like the periodic table of elements. Many scientists believe the key to comprehension will come with quantity over quality. As with the deciphering of any code or the comprehension of any language, more is more.

Astronomers Yvan Dutil and Stephane Dumas from Defence Research and Development Canada in Valcartier, Quebec, sent a message in 2008 comprised of contributions from a social networking site as well as 26,000 text messages, along with more complicated graphs and diagrams towards a planetary system near a sun-like star. These messages will reach the system in 2029, a short amount of time compared to the bulk of these types of messages that may take thousands of years to reach their destination. Besides time, where to send messages and to which planetary systems are a wide source of debate.

While the prognosis sounds doubtful, I believe that, not too far into the future, scientific innovation will allow us to send these messages further and more quickly. What I believe our biggest challenge will be is to (for lack of a better term) “think outside of the planet.” Until we can understand what it means to truly communicate outside the limitations of humanity, we will not be able to start a universal conversation in any manner.

Make sure to read the whole article by New Scientist here.



1. mike - January 20, 2010

A great post, thanks. Got me thinking: any message we receive would have been sent millennia ago, just as any message we send now will be received out there far in the future.
Then I saw a related article @ NEWSCIENTIST and found this interesting quote: “The first message to be transmitted in the hope of contacting an alien civilisation was quite short, containing just 1679 “bits” of information. This figure was used deliberately: it is the product of two prime numbers, 23 and 73, and if the message is displayed as a 23-by-73 grid it shows a series of simple pictures.

The message was transmitted by the Arecibo radio telescope. It was sent, just once, to the globular cluster M13, where it should arrive in the year 26,974.

2. marge falconer - January 20, 2010

Very interesting. Sounds like a great writing prompt or creative project prompt.

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