People scramble to decode simulated 'alien' signals beamed from Mars
On Wednesday, Europe’s Mars orbiter sent an encoded message to Earth to simulate a signal from aliens.
Sixteen minutes later, it was received by three big radio telescopes on Earth, kicking off a global effort to decipher the cryptic signal.
The signal is part of an experiment run by SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) to prepare humans for when we might receive a message from actual aliens.
The project named ‘A Sign in Space’ is a multiweek effort by an international team of experts, including SETI researchers, space scientists, and artists. It aims to explore the process of decoding and interpreting an extraterrestrial message by engaging the worldwide community of alien hunters.
‘Receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a profoundly transformational experience for all humankind,’ said said Daniela de Paulis, the artist behind the project.
She added that it offered an ‘unprecedented opportunity to tangibly rehearse and prepare for this scenario through global collaboration’.
The signal was sent by the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) currently in orbit around Mars.
The encoded message was detected by three radio astronomy observatories located across the globe. These include the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA), the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station observatory managed by Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).
The specific content of the encoded message, developed by de Paulis and her team, is currently undisclosed, allowing the public to contribute to decoding and interpreting the content.
The SETI Institute hosted a social media live stream event featuring interviews with key team members.
‘This experiment is an opportunity for the world to learn how the SETI community, in all its diversity, will work together to receive, process, analyze, and understand the meaning of a potential extraterrestrial signal,’ said ATA Project Scientist Dr Wael Farah.
‘More than astronomy, communicating with ET will require a breadth of knowledge. With “A Sign in Space”, we hope to make the initial steps towards bringing a community together to meet this challenge.’
Following the transmission, ATA, GBT, and Medicina teams processed the signal and made it available to the public for decoding.
The SETI Institute will securely store the processed data in collaboration with Breakthrough Listen Open Data Archive and Filecoin, the world’s largest decentralized storage network. This ensures the preservation and accessibility of the processed data, safeguarding its availability for further analysis and decoding endeavours.
Anyone working to decode and interpret the message can discuss the process in a dedicated Discord server. So far the group includes software engineers, mathematicians and physicists trying their hand at decoding the message.
If you end up cracking the code you can submit it at this link.
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