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44 Years After Its First Message to Aliens, Arecibo Observatory Calls For Follow-Up

by Alan Boyle                     November 16, 2018                         (geekwire.com)

• In 1974, the first Arecibo Message transmitted from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was designed by SETI astronomers including Frank Drake and Carl Sagen and was beamed by radio transmission from the Arecibo telescope in the direction of the M13 star cluster in the constellation Hercules. It was meant as an intergalactic greeting from planet Earth.  (see image of message below)

• The shapes shown on the Arecibo Message grid represent a variety of concepts ranging from the numbers 1 through 10 to the chemical constituents of DNA, our solar system’s planets and the telescope itself, plus a stick figure that stands for humanity. Other types of messages have been sent out periodically since then as well.

• Since the first transmission was sent in 1974, the three minutes’ worth of radio waves have rippled out to a distance of 44 light-years, or less than 0.2 percent of the way to M13 star cluster. Experts acknowledge that it’s extremely unlikely the message will ever be detected and decoded by an alien civilization.

• Now the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo Observatory wants to transmit a second Arecibo Message from Arecibo’s 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope. They’ve announced a student-focused competition to design a new message to beam to extraterrestrials. In order to qualify and ultimately register, student competitors will first need to solve a series of brain-teasing puzzles posted on Arecibo’s website. The contest is open to teams from around the world, in classes ranging from kindergarten to college. Each team should consist of five students plus an adult mentor – for example, a teacher, professor or professional scientist. The first challenge will be posted on December 16th. Clues and follow-up activities will be rolled out periodically over the next year, and the winning team is due to be revealed next fall during a celebration of the Arecibo Message’s 45th anniversary.  (see 1:08 minute video below)

• Experts continue to debate the wisdom of broadcasting our existence to the rest of the universe. Most famously, the late physicist Stephen Hawking said letting extraterrestrials know where we are could turn out as badly for us as Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World turned out for Native Americans.

 

The Arecibo Observatory today kicked off a student-focused competition to design a new message to beam to extraterrestrials, 44 years to the day since the first deliberate message was sent out from Arecibo’s 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope.

“Our society and our technology have changed a lot since 1974,” Francisco Cordova, the observatory’s director, said in a news release. “So if we were assembling our message today, what would it say? What would it look like? What one would need to learn to be able to design the right updated message from the earthlings? Those are the questions we are posing to young people around the world through the New Arecibo Message – the global challenge.”

 The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

It’s not just about the message, however: Competitors will have to solve brain-teasing puzzles posted on Arecibo’s website in order to qualify, get instructions, register and submit their designs. Along the way, they’ll learn about space science, the scientific method and Arecibo’s story.

“We have quite a few surprises in store for participants, and we will be sharing more details as the competition progresses,” Cordova said.

The contest is open to teams from around the world, in classes ranging from kindergarten to college. Each team should consist of five students plus an adult mentor – for example, a teacher, professor or professional scientist. The first challenge will be posted on Dec. 16.

The 1st Arecibo Message

“Teams should wait until the release of the first challenge on December 16, since they will need to solve that challenge to be able to register,” Abel Méndez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, told me in an email. “Meanwhile, team leaders should subscribe to the Arecibo newsletter for updates and start forming their own teams.”

Clues and follow-up activities will be rolled out periodically over the next year, and the winning team is due to be revealed next fall during a celebration of the Arecibo Message’s 45th anniversary.

 

1:08 minute video on the 1974 Arecibo Message

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