Joe Davis of MIT used an Apple iPhone to send a follow-up message from Earth into outer space. The event occurred as a commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the original Carl Sagan / Frank Drake message transmitted in 1974. The two astronomers used the biggest and most sensitive radio telescope, at the Arecibo Observatory, located in its namesake city in Puerto Rico. Joe Davis
, a biology research affiliate,
sent his message via the same equipment with a small twist.Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Ashley Clark
The encoder that is used to modulate the powerful beam of the radio telescope wasn’t working when Davis was ready to say "Hello out there."
As a substitute, Davis used the iPhone’s audio-recording capability and a television connector. The message was directed at three stars that are only 12 to 30 light years away. It should take the same number of years to reach them, as radio waves move at the speed of light. Those stars are
: GJ 83.1, Teagarden’s star SO 025300.5+165258, and Kappa Ceti [G5B].
Davis, also an artist, sent a message that was a representation of RuBisCO
, a common protein molecule found in all of Earth’s life forms, which is the basis for photosynthesis. Its long name is ribulose- 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase.
The Sagan/Drake Message
contained information that they hoped might be recognizable to others sharing our universe: the atomic numbers of the elements that make up DNA, the numbers one through ten [1-10] and graphic representations of the solar system and a man.
The intent of both the earlier Sagan/Drake message and that of Davis is not what you would think. Rather than connecting with ET, it is to encourage people on Earth to think about what it would mean to communicate with beings beyond, whose nature and environment are alien to us.
It is almost impossible to make contact with extraterrestrials via radio waves pointed at a specific destination at this point in time. The original message’s destination, a cluster of stars tagged M13, will have moved by the time the beam sent 35 years ago reaches it. Thus, the message will not be captured by its intended recipients. They will never "get the message" and Davis quips that "there are intelligent beings on Earth we can’t communicate with."
Davis abandoned one approach to packaging his message, because the gene encoded in binary has no punctuation. The recipient would have to guess that four bases were being encoded as paired binary bits: 00, 01, 10 and 11. So Davis "created sound files with spoken syllables where 'space-one syllable-space' = C and so on to 'space-four syllables-space' =G’". He used Apple's "Speak" option to vocalize the phonetic code. He converted the 1434-mer RuBisCo sequence into an analog audio file that he recorded on the iPhone.
Davis explains at Centauri Dreams,
the news forum of the Tau Zero Foundation: "This phonetic encoding technique also allowed me to interpose another layer of meaning in the message. The syllables were:
C) space – "I" – space
T) space – "amthe" – space
A) space – "knowyourself" – space
G) space – "riddleoflife" – space These coded phrases,"
Davis continues, "reiterate the edict of [the Greek god] Apollo that is inscribed at the entrance to the temple at Delphi where it says, 'Know yourself and you will know all of the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the gods". I think Arecibo Observatory is somehow analogous to the temple at Delphi. Astronomers at Arecibo routinely glean the heavens to uncover such secrets. Do a little algebra and it’s obvious that they must also be learning something about ourselves."
And that is something to think about.
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