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After 35 Years, Another Message Sent From Arecibo

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the but-that's-an-aphone dept.

Communications 249

0xdeadbeef writes "Two weeks ago, MIT artist-in-residence Joe Davis used the Arecibo radio telescope to send a message to three stars in honor of the 35th anniversary of the famous Drake-Sagan transmission to M13 in 1974. It was apparently allowed but not endorsed by the director of the facility, and used a jury-rigged signal source on what will now be known as the 'coolest iPhone in the world.' The message encoded a DNA sequence, but no word yet on whether it disabled any alien shields. You can get the low-down on Centauri Dreams: Part 1, Part 2."

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249 comments

And it was (5, Insightful)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30198934)

Send More Funding

Re:And it was (5, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199176)

Send More Funding

I'm sure they won't be waiting any longer than usual for a response.

Representation of the solar system in the message (1)

DemoLiter3 (704469) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199638)

Now that Pluto is no longer a planet, why is it still included in the message? Shouldn't they be sending an updated version?

Re:And it was (4, Funny)

johnw (3725) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199908)

No, it was - "Kids and grown ups love it so, the happy world of Arecibo"

Re:And it was (1)

uvajed_ekil (914487) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200014)

...No, really. We're still waiting for your reply. Seriously. So hurry up. Like, people are starting to think we're crazy, or on the fringe or something. Or just wrongmaybe. But we know you're real, right? So please, just say something. Ooh, wait! Id you're real and intelligent, don't say anything, then we'll know. OMG, LOL, thanx. Are you on Twitter?

Wishful thinking (0, Troll)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 4 years ago | (#30198936)

The idea that we can send radio signals to alien civilizations, or receive them, is unfortunately wishful thinking. "Contact" notwithstanding, it's not possible. We could never pick up a radio signal from an alien civilization because the power of a signal from a point source drops off exponentially. And it's not a matter of having a better amplifier either, because radio waves are actually quantized....eventually your signal has degraded to individual photons, and it doesn't take very long. My friend and I calculated that even with a MW-level transmitter, an alien civilazation on Alpha Centauri would need an impractically large dish to intercept even a trickle of photons.

Re:Wishful thinking (5, Insightful)

PopeOptimusPrime (875888) | more than 4 years ago | (#30198984)

If this transmission stimulates even one young person to do that calculation for themselves, or to otherwise conclude that it's a foolish waste of money, it will have been money well spent.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199160)

Not really. College professors force young people to do similar calculations already.

Re:Wishful thinking (5, Funny)

andy666 (666062) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199182)

This just in - they got a response:

Dear Earthling,

Hello! I am a creature from a galaxy far away, visiting your planet.
I have transformed myself into this text file. As you are reading it, I
am having sex with your eyeballs. I know you like it because you are
smiling. Please pass me on to someone else because I'm really horny.

Re:Wishful thinking (4, Funny)

Nested (981630) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199314)

My Dear Friend and Earthling, My name is Mr. Zebel Braumat, I am a senior priest in the highest order of our race. We are conducting a standard process investigation/Recommendation on behalf of all Advanced Common Civilization (ACC). This investigation involves an ancient race who shares similar DNA as with yours from which we have previously received messages from. The circumstances which surrounding investments made by this race at ADB Gold Account, the Private Banking arm of ACC. The ACC Private Banking client died intestate and nominated no successor in title over the investments made with the bank amounting to over galactic 9.5 Gazillion dollars. The essence of this communication with you is to request that you provide us information/comments on any or all of the four issues as regards nominating your race to inherit the fund left behind by this previous race. You are therefore being contacted to be legally nominated as next of kin(inheritor) to this race after all enquiries and investigation has yielded results showing that there is no known successors. You are required therefore to answer this questions to enable us make our recommendation. 1-Are you aware of any relative/relation born on the 2nd of February 1951, who shares your same name whose last known contact address was West Africa? 2-Are you aware of any investment of considerable value made by such a person at the Private Banking Division of ADB Bank PLC? 3-Can you confirm your willingness to accept this inheritance if you are legally and legitimately nominated and approved to stand as inheritor to this huge investment in regards to the bank account with ADB? 4-Would you agree to donate part of this inheritance to charity if you are officially approved to stand as the inheritor? It is pertinent that you inform us ASAP whether or not you are familiar with this personality or and your interest towards the issues mentioned. You must appreciate that we are constrained from providing you with more detailed information at this point. Please respond to this mail as soon as possible to afford us the opportunity to provide you with more information on this investigation and recommendation. Thank you for accommodating our enquiry. Mr. Zebel Braumat For: Advanced Common Civilization Kappa Ceti (G5B)

Re:Wishful thinking (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199590)

I know the paernt is a FAKE because it's not all in caps.

Re:Wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199964)

That is just further proof that the message is from a highly advanced civilization...

Re:Wishful thinking (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199988)

Dear Earthling,

  I have been requested by the Inter Planetary Resource Foundation to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Inter Planetary Resource Foundation has recently concluded a large number of contracts for resource exploration in the Alpha Centauri region. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equalling $40,000,000 in your currency. The Inter Planetary Resource Foundation is desirous of resource exploration in other parts of the galaxy, however, because of certain regulations of the Galactic council, it is unable to move these funds to another region.

Your assistance is requested to assist the Inter Planetary Resource Foundation in moving these funds out of the region. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your Earthling bank account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Inter Planetary Resource Foundation . In exchange for your accomodating services, the Inter Planetary Resource Foundation would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4 million of this amount.

However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Nigerian law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a bank which is regulated by the Inter Planetary Resource Foundation.

If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. Please reply to this message at your earliest convenience.

Re:Wishful thinking (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199702)

"stimulates even one young person to do that calculation for themselves" != "force young people to do similar calculations"

Being interested in science and doing things because you want to is very different from just doing it because you have to to pass the class you're taking because you have to.

Re:Wishful thinking (4, Informative)

jcrb (187104) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199008)

We could never pick up a radio signal from an alien civilization because the power of a signal from a point source drops off exponentially..

Umm..... its not a "point source" its a spherical reflector..... the whole point of the construction of big antennas is to allow you to do precisely what it is you friend appears to believe is impossible.

We now return you to your usual /. chaos

Re:Wishful thinking (4, Informative)

khayman80 (824400) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199158)

Not to mention the fact that even point source radiation falls off as the inverse square of the distance, which isn't at all the same thing as falling off exponentially.

Re:Wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199794)

Squared is to the exponent of 2 isn't it? Thus exponentially.

Re:Wishful thinking (2, Informative)

danlip (737336) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199904)

No. The signal strength is 1/(r^2). Exponentially would be 1/(c^r), where c is some constant and r is the radius. Exponentially means r is in the exponent, not the base.

Re:Wishful thinking (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199020)

Actually I believe calculations have been done which show that two Arecibo type telescopes could communicate across the galaxy.

Re:Wishful thinking (3, Funny)

HaeMaker (221642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199530)

Not in my lifetime.

Re:Wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199556)

Well who'd want to talk to an ephemeral anyway?

Re:Wishful thinking (3, Funny)

AnotherUsername (966110) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199768)

Not in my lifetime.

But maybe mine. I plan on living to be at least 500, hopefully more. So far, so good.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199972)

Not in my lifetime.

But maybe mine. I plan on living to be at least 500, hopefully more. So far, so good.

How long have you lived so far?

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199022)

Except that Alpha Centauri's staggeringly advanced "alien" technology has solved this problem long, long ago.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

AlexBirch (1137019) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199056)

Do you have a blog where you publish these calculations, etc?
This would be a great article for popular science, etc.

Re:Wishful thinking (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199132)

Pretty sure the power drops off with an inverse square law.

Exponential != really fast. It's really really really really fast, eventually.

Re:Wishful thinking (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199138)

Oddly, we just solved this problem in E&M class. If you had antennas with 80 dBi gain at both ends and a megawatt of power, that would be sufficient to transmit 10^5 bits per second over a lightyear gap with a received power level above the thermal noise floor (e.g. the antenna does enough work on the receiver to flip a bit). Raise the distance to 100 lightyears and reduce the gain to 73 dBi (e.g. Arecibo) and you lose 5.5 orders of magnitude in bit rate. Up the power to three megawatts (not hard to imagine) and you get back half an order of magnitude. So the achievable rate over 100ly using only current Earth technology at both ends is about a bit per second. Useless, perhaps, but not technically impossible.

Re:Wishful thinking (4, Insightful)

ZorbaTHut (126196) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199208)

Useless, perhaps, but not technically impossible.

The entire Wikipedia section on the production of titanium is a little under 4 kilobytes, which would take a bit over an hour to transmit at those rates. Imagine an alien species has a new ultra-efficient titanium refining process - would you wait a day to get the summary of it downloaded for your scientists? I sure as hell would.

The two-hundred-year transmission lag to go a hundred lightyears is a far bigger issue than the bandwidth.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

sahonen (680948) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199210)

Considering that your transmission is going to take a hundred years to get there in the first place, 1 bit per second wouldn't be all that bad.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

turtleAJ (910000) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199222)

Here is a picture of the dish,
http://www.wikipuertorico.com/index.php?title=Arecibo_Observatory [wikipuertorico.com]

Pretty cool thing to go and visit!

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

voss (52565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199474)

So the reason why noone has heard us, is not because noone is out there, but is because our technology for interstellar communication still sucks.
Oddly enough that makes me feel much better about the chances of finding someone out there....eventually.

Re:Wishful thinking (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199204)

You have no idea about what you are talking about. It is true that omni directional radio sources are subject to inverse square law, but directional signals degrade less slowly. Scientists have calculated that using the Arecibo dish at one megawatt the signal could be received by a similarly sized dish 10000 lightyears away. I think I trust calculations done by people with PhDs in astronomy more than calculations done by you and your friend

Re:Wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199472)

You have no idea about what you are talking about. It is true that omni directional radio sources are subject to inverse square law, but directional signals degrade less slowly.

NO, they don't.

Still inverse square. (once you're out of the near field)

Re:Wishful thinking (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199632)

+3 Interesting, huh?

This (and some previous, as well as some following) comments, have absolutely no clue whatsoever about E&M radiation. If you don't know, don't post.

The strength of electromagnetic radiation drops off as the square of distance. (As long as you're far enough away to ignore "near-field effects", which for the astronomical distances we are talking about, they can very well be ignored.)

It is always the square of the distance no matter what antenna geometry, gain, feed, or other technological measure is employed. It is not exponential (as stated by a previous post). They do not degrade "less slowly" as stated in the parent post. (And - "less slowly" - does that mean they degrade more faster?)

I swear, I hardly ever post here, but I'm going to have to create an account just so I can reply to all the erroneous understandings of E&M that get modded up. I expected this readership to be better than that.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

pelrun (25021) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200170)

But *why* is it still the square of the distance when I always thought that was just a natural consequence of the increase in volume of a sphere as it's radius increases? If antenna gain makes no difference, then why bother with it at all?

Re:Wishful thinking (5, Informative)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200186)

It is true that omni directional radio sources are subject to inverse square law, but directional signals degrade less slowly.

As it is a linear partial differential equation, all solutions to the wave equation and equations of its type are governed by what is known as the "fundamental solution" or "Green's function" of the equation. In the case of wave type equations(in 3 or more dimensions), this solution will be a delta function type solution which decreases inversely with distance from the source. Squaring its amplitude to obtain energy gives an inverse square energy decrease.

It must be stressed that all solutions of the wave equation, no matter what the sources, or boundary or initial conditions, must all be functions derived, more or less, from convolutions of the fundamental solution with the source terms. You cannot escape the inverse square behaviour of wave propagation over long distances with finite wave sources. The fundamental solution characterises all waves because of the linearity of the wave equation.

Now, there is a second fundamental solution for the wave equation; the so called "acausal" Green's function, which represents an inwardly collapsing wave, or by some conventions, a wave travelling backwards through time. Naturally, these waves are not considered in the context of the transmission of signals. Even if they were, these waves also display and inverse square relation for signal strength( going backwards in time of course).

This has been your daily mathematical public service announcement. Complaints to be directed to the Dean.

We are here! Come and get us! (5, Funny)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30198986)

We are very tasty snacks! Here, have our DNA, and grow some appetizers for the long journey!

Re:We are here! Come and get us! (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199034)

Since ET already gets all our TV transmissions, plus cell phones and wifi, I don't think this one will make much difference.

Just don't take any calls (-1, Redundant)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30198994)

...while sending messages through the telescope. Because, you know, you are not allowed to redistribute those ring tones.

BTW whats a "Poetica Vaginal transmission"? Sounds interesting.

Re:Just don't take any calls (5, Funny)

Cal27 (1610211) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199124)

These guys must be loaded. Would you believe the rates they're charging for interstellar calls?

Re:Just don't take any calls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199604)

From a link in the first blog posting:

"Later that decade, Davis led a quasi-covert operation that recorded the vaginal contractions of ballerinas with the Boston Ballet and other women, then translated this impetus of human conception into text, music, phonetic speech and ultimately into radio signals, which were beamed from M.I.T.'s Millstone radar to Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti and two other nearby star systems. "

Practical joke (4, Insightful)

dachshund (300733) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199064)

Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication. It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

Re:Practical joke (5, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199108)

Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication. It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

But if they do figure it out, we'll get a message a century from now: "Delicious! Do you have any other recipes?"

Re:Practical joke (3, Insightful)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199506)

>>But if they do figure it out, we'll get a message a century from now: "Delicious! Do you have any other recipes?"

Sadly, people rarely stop to wonder if the messages we're sending into outer space are a good idea. Aliens with a good grasp of game theory might just very well decide to drop a meteor onto any planet they find broadcasting into outer space. You know... just to be sure.

I actually find it sort of thoughtless that people like this are taking the entire fate of the world into their hands. Dramatic? Not so much, if you really stop to think about it.

Re:Practical joke (1)

jdigriz (676802) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200088)

It's a little late now. All transmissions of significant power that are not reflected by the ionosphere have been going into space for over a century. The only difference with Arecibo is that it's directional and concentrated.

Re:Practical joke (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200094)

wonder if the messages we're sending into outer space are a good idea. Aliens with a good grasp of game theory might just very well decide to drop a meteor onto any planet they find broadcasting into outer space...

Maybe the dinosaurs broadcasted also, winning Earth's first, but not last Galactic Darwin Award.
   

Re:Practical joke (1)

jipn4 (1367823) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199644)

There's a good chance that this kind of biochemistry is universal; the universe is full of the kind of stuff that our DNA and proteins are made from, but we haven't observed a lot of other complex chemicals elsewhere.

Re:Practical joke (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200200)

Without any context --- e.g., our biochemistry, amino acid structure, nature of DNA --- this message amounts to about the worst practical joke in the history of interstellar communication.

But it is probably also the -best- practical joke in -our-history of interstellar communication. How many other interstellar practical jokes have we played?

It has a relatively non-random structure, so clearly must mean something, and yet they'll never figure it out.

It might just be a lack of imagination on my part, but I can't picture an organism evolving without some type of intrinsic code. If we got such a code, we'd probably realize that it was something similar to nucleotide sequences and that we didn't have all the tools to do anything with it.

The message (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199110)

Dear citizens of Centauri. I have a large sum of gold, 300 metric tons, I need to move off planet. If you'll deposit a small transfer fee, 3 metric tons of gold, in a local bank I will make arrangements to ship the gold to you. Signed crowned prince of Iowa.

Re:The message (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30200234)

Nah, it was: "3nl4rg3 ur p3n1s now!!! No pumps, No exercises!"

If an alien intercepts, is this Space Travel? (0, Redundant)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199170)

By sending them our DNA sequence, they can then reconstruct a human at their location.

Or (2, Insightful)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199354)

it's like a radio time capsule.
Imagine if what becomes of humans in 1 million years or so intercept the transmission. It would be like digging up an old fossil record of DNA.

Re:Or (1)

tarius8105 (683929) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199492)

What would make me laugh is if somehow humans were created by time traveling aliens who got our dna and created the first humans based off it. SETI would technically have a hand in self creation. But a galactic emporer named Xenu is much more plausible....

Ok really? (3, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199192)

Ok, I understand the "coolness" factor of radio transmissions to the stars, but in the end are they all wasted money? I mean, chances are another Hubble mixed with other probes can find where there is other life faster, quicker and easier than radio telescopes. We've been trying these for ages and they haven't picked up anything. So why not spend research money doing things that we know are going to work. Plus, its a whole lot more probable that we will find non-intelligent life throughout the universe than intelligent life. Even if we find life outside earth with the technology level of 1700s earth, they won't be picking up these signals and really for all but the last 100 years, humans wouldn't have been able to pick up this signal. So quit messing around with radio signals and find possible planets for life.

Re:Ok really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199430)

Ok, I understand the "coolness" factor of radio transmissions to the stars, but in the end are they all wasted money? I mean, chances are another Hubble mixed with other probes can find where there is other life faster, quicker and easier than radio telescopes.

False dichotomy. And you can use radio-telescopes from Earth, unlike optical telescopes, which must be put into orbit to see long distances.

Re:Ok really? (1)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199540)

Another big problem is that for radio astronomy to work in finding alien signals, we must count on stability of civilizations on both ends to make it work, which history shows to be wishful thinking. If aliens do pick up this message and response, who's to say that by the time the response gets here we will have any resources at all to pick it up due to some war or other nonsense or having merely forgot or lost interest about such things over time. The same would seem to apply to the other end(s). Also, many of the calculations about our signals being able to traverse great distances seem to assume that there is nothing but "free space" in the way, which is an unproven assumption to say the least. Even relatively small amounts of matter from dead stars and such could cause a gravitational scatter of the signal...

Re:Ok really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199752)

well, light travels from their star to us, light is somewhere in the EM spectrum, radio is somewhere in the EM spectrum, I'm going to assume it's likely the signal will make it there.

Re:Ok really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199836)

Our governments are throwing away billions of (currency of choice) for bank bailouts and other large-scale frauds. What are a few millions for something that actually has an extremely tiny probability to return anything, compared to that?

Compared to money spent on subsidising their "friends", wars, etc., the few coins thrown at scientists aren't even worth mentioning (as long as their findings cannot kill in a more efficient way or keep the powers that be in power, of course).

Re:Ok really? (1)

pelrun (25021) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200194)

Actually establishing communication is a secondary goal - just detecting incidental radio output of an alien civilisation would be a monumental discovery. That said, it does require both sides to have radio capability. So it's probably unlikely that we'll see anything if there are/were only a couple of other inhabited planets out there, but if instead the universe has a lot of life in it, we may get lucky and be in the right place and time to see *one*. If we aren't looking, then even that possibility is wasted.

Additionally, we're able to see a hell of a long way out there; astronomers are peering deeper and deeper into the universe all the time. If the universe systematically scattered all energy from far away, we wouldn't be able to do that. And in fact, matter that's 'in the way' can be a major advantage, with gravitational lensing.

Re:Ok really? (1)

KibibyteBrain (1455987) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200264)

Stars are immensely more powerful, generally point sources than radio telescopes. So while not optimal at all for long range transmission we can still see their image.(after quite a bit of work, knowing or at least suspecting what we are trying to resolve the image to) So again, you are solely reliant on the antenna gain you get with a telescope array to be able to reliably transmit information over long distance, and this gain is only valid for free space or similar attenuation.

Re:Ok really? (2, Insightful)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199636)

I hope its a waste of money, but there is a tiny chance it is a lot worse: something listening might actually be able to come here. Historically when the "guys on the ships" meet the "guys on the shore", the guys on the shore don't do very well. One could also make an argument that if you detect an alien culture, your best bet is to launch a relativistic bomb (or the information equivalent).

Yo astronomers, I'm really happy for ya... (5, Funny)

b1t r0t (216468) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199214)

I'ma let you finish, but we already got a reply [wikimedia.org] to the original message!

Re:Yo astronomers, I'm really happy for ya... (2, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199896)

I'm trying to decode the message. Does it mean something like "Play an Atari 2600 game involving aliens instead of wasting your time on this telescope"?

The message assumes prior knowledge of our world (3, Interesting)

Scubaraf (1146565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199286)

Sending out a DNA sequence assumes that the receiver understands a great deal about our planet and the molecular basis of life on it.

Think about it, even if they understood the message was about DNA, they would have to know our amino acid code in order to interpret it as the template for a protein. A protein that either did not evolve on their world, or evolved in a completely different way.

In effect, all we saying with this message is that we have advanced enough to recognize that DNA is the basis for life on this planet. Only a sentience that already understood that basis could interpret this message.

It's akin to someone shouting, "a-squared + b-squared = c-squared!" - out-of-context - in the antarctic. It shows you have learned something, but there either isn't anyone to hear you or they won't understand you unless they knew all about you (and Euclidian geometry) already.

My thoughts exactly (1)

interactive_civilian (205158) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200102)

Even if we make the assumption of organic life, which isn't far-fetched given all of the awesome self-organizing things organic molecules (biotic or abiotic) can do, we have as yet no reason to assume that nucleic acids will be the information carrier in an alien life form. Even if we do assume that nucleic acids are the information carrier, we have no reason to assume that the genetic code is universal.

The evolution of the genetic code is perhaps the biggest mystery in the origins of life on Earth. We are only just beginning to set down a reasonable framework [biology-direct.com] in which to put forth testable hypotheses, but still yet have no way of determining whether the genetic code as it evolved on Earth is the only thermodynamically favorable outcome for such a system, or if it was a fixed accident. There has been some interesting mathematical treatment [biology-direct.com] of the evolution of the genetic code, but nothing conclusive on the mechanisms of its origins. It does seem that molecular biology and studies of molecular evolution are coming into their own in this respect, so answers may not be so many years off, but we still have quite a way to go in our understanding.

Considering that the genetic code itself is somewhat evolvable (there are a couple of organisms, bacteria IIRC, that have reassigned one of their duplicate codons for a 21st amino acid), there really isn't any good reason to assume that alien life forms, even if biochemically similar in most other respects, would have the same genetic code. For all we know, we may have just sent off a good bit of nonsense (genetically speaking), even if they could decode the sequence and understand it as a nucleic acid sequence.

It seems to me that it would make much more sense to send something mathematical: a sequence of primes, a Fibonacci sequence, or some other sequence that would never appear as a "natural" unintelligent signal. Something like that would be an unmistakable sign of intelligent life (at least intelligent enough to work out math and send it in a signal). Sending a genetic code seems like a complete waste of time (disregarding those who think that sending any kind of signal is a waste of time).

Karen Carpenter sang it best (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199322)

Calling occupants of interplanetary craft

The message was so lame (4, Insightful)

b1t r0t (216468) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199350)

So if you're going to send a message, you have to choose one. What did he choose? The DNA sequence for an enzyme.

We used Apple's "Speak" option to vocalize the phonetic code which I then recorded on my iPhone. Here is a fragment of the total message, the whole of which can be decoded unambiguously into the gene for RuBisCo:

Tell me how, exactly, the recipient is going to decode a DNA sequence, even if the basic message can be identified as strings of 2-bit numbers? Not only is DNA specific (as far as we know) to Earth chemistry, but the meanings of the codons, and even the choice to interpret them in triplets is the result of chance evolution on this planet. It's like sending a message in Navajo to Paris, with the assumption that it can be "decoded unambigiously"... because the sender knew what it meant. The meanings of DNA codons are absolutely not a universal constant like binary math is.

knowyourself riddleoflife amthe riddleoflife amthe amthe riddleoflife riddleoflife

<facepalm> Not that the choice of words would mean anything to them, but this shows the touchy-feely-ness that goes along with the lack of foresight that was already demonstrated.

Say what you will about Sagan's message, but at least they put some thought into making a message that gave hints as to how to decode it, rather than just sending some unframed binary mish-mash.

Re:The message was so lame (4, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199516)

[_] They're hoping the aliens will succumb to Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field.
[_] At our nearest stellar neighbour, Soviet Centaurans serve YOU. (yum yum thx 4 gene seq bzzzt!)
[_] Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line. Your call is important to us. Please stay ...
[_] What? Can you hear me now? What? Frakking Aldebaran Telephone and Telecommunications! Get me a Droid!
[_] Get the base ships ready to jump! We've found the 13th colony!
[_] Oh shit. Spaceballs! Oh well, there goes the galaxy ...
[_] What, is your planet still there? The highway goes through next wee, you know!
[_] The .... answer .... is .... 42 .... point .... (click) Your time is up. Please insert another 50 million galactic credits to call again.
[_] The borg collective are pissed off at how you've portrayed them. They'll be in your area soon to "discuss it." BTW, we're calling first dibs on your planet.
[_] Sorry, we don't want any illegal aliens in the neighborhood. Please go to another quadrant or we'll have to report you.
[_] Why did the zhicvben cross the whowde? To get to the other side! Thank you, thank you. I'm here all diurnal-periods-times-7. Try the phizch.
[_] That is the most odious and obscene collection of insults and violations of universal taboos any alien race has ever sent our way. Prepare to die, earth scum! We will be avenged!

Let's hope that either they're not there, or they can't hear us if they are, or if they can hear us, they can't reach us, because the odds are that what we'll have is a failure to communicate.

we can't even communicate properly between spouses - it's an incredible conceit to think we could get it right first time with an alien species, and not break any taboo, or accidently insult them ... of that they'd be friendly.

Survival of the fittest means that the predators get to the top of the heap. Don't invite predators unless you *know* that you're better able to defend yourself than they are.

Re:The message was so lame (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199718)

Not only is DNA specific (as far as we know) to Earth chemistry, but the meanings of the codons, and even the choice to interpret them in triplets is the result of chance evolution on this planet

We generally suspect this to be true but without other life to compare it to we can't be sure. The thing is there are serious biochemical constraints on what the codons can code for since the tRNA's (chemical structure is related to what amino acid it calls for. Since the tRNA's structure is determined in part by the structure of the messenger RNA which is determined solely by the DNA, there are constraints. They don't look that severe but we don't know.

We also don't know if there's any serious evolutionary optimization that went on to get our current structure. Right now the suspicion is not much for among other reasons that tampering with your basic system for transcribing proteins from DNA is really likely to result in bad stuff. Note how all life on Earth uses the exact same code (excepting some very very minor things like a handful of organisms that use a 21st amino acid).

The upshot is that while you are most likely correct, until we see life that evolved elsewhere we won't know for sure. The comparison to languages (which really are completely arbitrary) is thus not great.

Re:The message was so lame (1)

TangoMargarine (1617195) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199854)

Did I miss the part in the article(s) where he said what the message actually was? In plain English? I skimmed them but couldn't find anything. Or is it some binary-encoded thing that doesn't actually have any meaning other than as a snippet of DNA?

Contact with aliens on an iphone (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199520)

There's an app for that!

iPhone? (-1, Offtopic)

sw155kn1f3 (600118) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199544)

Please stop this shit. Oh come on, we're geeks, not some pointy-haired boss puppets. No iPhone, iMac or other "trendy" stuff. We're just geeks who can understand the stuff without extra explaining in layman terms. No advertising, no patronising, no other dumbing. Just please.

Re:iPhone? (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199598)

But they did use an iPhone.

Re:iPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199698)

"The amazing thing is, we did it with my iPhone!"

". . . sequence into an analog audio file that I recorded on my iPhone. Then, we actually interfaced my iPhone with. . . "

"Now I have the coolest iPhone in the world."

It's a cell phone, smartphone, mobile, handset, pda, whatever you want to call it. It fits in a category of electronic device that includes hundreds of others. But no, it can't be lowered and referred to by any generic name, it's an iPhone!

Considering that a piece of shite $15 mp3 player could have been used for the task just as well, such glowing praise and repeated brand name acknowledgement is truly not necessary. It makes Apple's marketing dept quite happy, however.

Re:iPhone? (3, Funny)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199732)

Exactly. I don’t think the phone model would have been mentioned (and with a wink nonetheless) that way if it were another phone.

Besides: Even a iPhone that sent stuff to another planet and got a reply, can’t beat a Linux running Nokia N900 with built-in full root access, from a company whose phones had SSH terminal software available for more than seven years now. </proper-geek-fanboyism> ;)

Ouch. (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199634)

That was a tough lesson in dream dispersal.

Did you read the comments on that dude's blog?

I'd have added some of my own, but I just didn't have the heart.

Ouch.

-FL

Lost in translation (1)

CSMatt (1175471) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199686)

Given that we didn't beam out the Wikipedia article for the first message, [wikipedia.org] I'm going to try and anticipate what the alien civilization will see it as by deciphering it myself without reading the article first:

"From top to bottom, the word 'aliens' in white English letters, a purple rock, some Space Invaders, a man with a giant blue head and a staff to his right, some white noise, and a bunch of stars over Planet GMail."

Not endorsed (0, Flamebait)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#30199738)

Why is it that some guy is taking the liberty to send anything he pleases to the aliens?

I mean, if we're going to seriously entretain the idea that some day some other civilization might receive the message, then such things should be planned carefully to be as meaningful, easily decodable and as non-threatening as possible lest it bite us in the ass some day. That excludes random people with access to the hardware sending messages just because they can out of their own initiative.

Just for a start, iPhone text to speech? There has to be some better way to encode a DNA sequence that would more obvious to decode that machine-generated voice in a human language.

And, if we're not really taking this seriously and this is just a gimmick, why bother in the first place? Surely there has to be some better use of the equipment.

Useless message (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30199958)

What. A. Useless. Message.

The message is nearly meaningless noise. There is structure, but not so much as to not be unambitiously random. The chances are that if anyone gets the message they'd assume it was just noise. What a horrible waste. We would have done so much better sending an obvious integer sequence a few times: more obvious in the presence of noise, and more likely to be recognized as meaningful by a foreign life.

No wonder they didn't want to help this guy out, he's obviously a cargo-cult-wannabe-scientist. "I play with beakers and transmitters, so I'm a scientist too".

  Sure— SETI things are more about understanding ourselves and pushing the technological boundaries. But that understanding comes from deep and considered thought about these issues, not by sending some artists to play scientist on some expensive equipment.

Dangerous (1, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200056)

We have no idea if the receiver is friendly. Based on human behavior, we can roughly guess that at least 10% of any/all intelligent receivers will be agressive. Why broadcast our location with those odds? It's not logical.

Re:Dangerous (3, Insightful)

weeeeed (675324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30200146)

Well, because we already broadcast enough, so sending yet another message does not really matter anymore. What I worry is our regular TV programming, which in the eyes of any advanced culture should make earth look like it's populated with some crazy monkeys flinging shit at each other.

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