Scientists create a message to send to outer space but say humanity is not ready yet

An international team of scientists has studied the possibility of sending a message to outer space targeting any extraterrestrial life that might also be listening or searching for other forms of life.

The study demonstrates how this project, called Bacon in the Galaxy (BITG), could virtually establish a global means of communication for what looks like Earth and its inhabitants to any extraterrestrials in the universe.

Driven by a broader inquiry, ancient scientists looked at the stars roaming the vault of the night and inevitably encountered what may be the most profound questions: Are we alone, or are those bright spots in the sky home to others who might come to know?

“This project, for me personally, is one of more than 20 years,” Jonathan Jiang, a study co-author and principal scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Jiang noted that while he is heavily involved in the BITG project, he works as a solo scientist and that this is not an initiative of NASA.

FILE – This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows the Arcs, the densest star cluster in the Milky Way. (NASA Goddard)

Jiang initially became fascinated by the possibility of communicating with alien life when he was young.

Highlighting NASA’s Pioneer missions 10 (1972) and 11 (1973), Jiang spoke of how the goal of both missions was not just deep space exploration but potentially contact with extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI). Both spacecraft carried a graphic message in the form of a 6″ x 9″ anodized gold plate attached to the main frame.

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The FILE-Pioneer F (Pioneer-10) spacecraft has been delivered to NASA at Cape Kennedy. (NASA)

Sheet metal had such a time and place of origin that it could one day find itself in the hands (or tentacles) of any other astronauts in the galaxy.

While attending a conference nearly three years ago, Jiang said that the topic of sending messages to outer space targeting aliens had come up and that he wasn’t the only one he liked.

“So I said, Let’s do it,” Jiang said, snapping his fingers.

So he met with several scholars to update the message from the 1970s.

Sending messages to outer space

In 1974, the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico, which suffered significant structural damage and was eventually shut down in 2020, sent the first intentional message to outer space, according to SETI.

The message was broadcast as a radio signal toward the globular cluster M13 about 25,000 light-years away, according to the study’s authors.

The message was also binary and included the 10th base math system, the elements most common to humans, and our solar system – including the position of the Earth.

Arecibo Observatory.  jpg

FILE – This aerial view shows the damage to the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables carrying the receiver in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. (Ricardo Arduingo/AFP via Getty Images)

Even more recently, in 1999 and 2003, Evpatoria Transmission Letters (ETMs) were sent that contain “an easily recognizable alphabetic system that includes a comprehensive list of our basic knowledge in mathematics and physics,” the study said.

But the most important thing about the ETMs was that they contained a call-to-response, which was not present in the Arecibo broadcast.

How will the latest message be sent?

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FILE – A panoramic image taken on December 19, 2021 shows a Chinese spherical radio telescope with a five hundred-meter aperture under maintenance in southwest China’s Guizhou Province. (Ou Dongqu/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The latest message can be transmitted through the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (“FAST”) located in southwest China.

Scientists hypothesize that a second option is the Allen Telescope Array (“ATA”) of the SETI Institute in Northern California.

However, despite having these powerful instruments at our disposal, the scientists said that these two telescopes can only receive radio broadcasts, not transmit them.

“Both are likely to be upgraded by future improvements that will allow for message transmission as well. If a deep goal such as communication with foreign civilizations is to be realized, the powerful tools of FAST and ATA should be paired with a well-designed and both built message to convey,” the authors suggest the study.

When these upgrades occur, scientists plan to send a message to a star group in the Milky Way that they believe has the highest potential for harboring life.

The star cluster is between 6,500 and 19,500 light-years away from the galactic center.

What will the whole message say?

In order to convey an understandable message to aliens, scientists need to consider the many differences that would occur if life existed outside our solar system.

For example, Jiang said that while it is very likely that an extraterrestrial organism will have the same molecular characteristics that we humans do, their traits may differ.

And aliens might speak a different language than we do on Earth and could use a completely different math system than we do.

The only thing that can be universally understood, according to Jiang, is a binary system.


Digital image of Earth’s position in the solar system (Beacon in Project Galaxy)

“The binary system must be universal. Why? Because our consciousness is shaped by many ‘yes’ and ‘no’, on or off. Is this a computer or a table? Am I talking to a person or drinking tea?” Jiang explained. “Awareness is millions of yes or no combined.”

Scientists propose sending the message in binary code via radio waves toward a habitable part of the Milky Way.

The authors suggested that “a message could practically contain encoded images of great cultural works of art, architecture, and/or images of nature such as forests, mountains, and oceans.”

The message will also contain digital images of the molecular structure of hydrogen and helium, two of the most important elements needed to create life, and even digital images of the male and female figure.

Jiang also explained the reasons behind the image of the male and female forms. It is not only meant to show foreigners what we look like, but it is also meant to show the equality of men and women.

“There are two profound reasons for this. The first is that the definition of life is reproduction. Life moves because it is able to reproduce itself,” Jiang said. The second reason for the photos, Jiang explained, was that in 1972, when the Pioneer 10 was launched, inside the spacecraft was a golden disk with an image of a man and a woman.

On the 1972 disc, the man raised his hand and the woman stood next to him with her arms down.

“The original image of a man raising his hand. A woman is a kind of obedience. We want to update that to show that a man and a woman are equal,” Jiang said.

So in the updated photo, both the man and the woman raise their hand.

The message will also be included:

  • Earth binary and decimal systems, prime numbers including the largest prime
  • Arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division)
  • Exponential operations
  • algebra
  • Particle physics
  • DNA Structure
  • Map of our solar system and where the earth is located
  • Earth’s picture and features

A digital image of the binary and decimal system. ( Beacon in Project Galaxy)

Besides images and digital items, the scientists hope to include a timestamp so that if/when aliens receive the message, they’ll know the general direction to direct the return message, the scientists hypothesized.

The authors wrote: “Humanity, we affirm, has a compelling story to share and a desire to know about others – and now has the means to do so.”

Why don’t we send it… yet

The scientists said they don’t plan to send the updated message — not yet anyway.

The co-authors of this study agreed that humanity is not ready to send a collective message to outer space.

In order to send a message to the universe on behalf of the Earth, Jiang made it clear that the entire world had to agree to do so, not just a single institute or entity.

This can be difficult given the state of the world as we know it now, according to Jiang and his co-authors.

And hypothetically, if Earth somehow manages to agree on this one thing and we send the message into space, we have to live long enough to receive the response.

It could take tens of thousands of years to receive a response, according to Stuart Taylor, co-author of the study and an astrophysicist at SETI, who knows if humans can survive that long.

“The tendency for humans to try to destroy ourselves is the greatest danger,” Jiang said.

“Right now, there are a lot of problems with humanity, and Stephen Hawking was worried about whether or not we could survive another thousand years,” Jiang added.

But it’s not all gloomy and gloomy. Jiang and Taylor hope that this study, which is publicly available, will spark hope and desire to continue the work left behind.


FILE – Image release June 22, 2010 A stunning new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope – one of the largest images ever released of a star-forming region – highlights N11, part of the complex network of gas clouds and star clusters within the region next door to us (NASA Goddard)

If the message is not sent this time, perhaps future generations will be inspired to update the message again, and again, and again, and again until we reach a point as a human species where we are ready to collectively agree to access intelligent life forms. other in our galaxy or beyond.

“It’s an inspiring work,” Jiang said. He hopes that his children’s generation will send the message, or at least spark discussion, to reach the stars one day.

“I’m glad we inspired these young people to think about it. And we inspired humanity because we don’t forget that we are citizens of the earth,” he added.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.

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