Last post of the school year: The Arecibo Message

The Arecibo message as sent 1974 from the Arecibo Observatory.

The Arecibo message as sent 1974 from the Arecibo Observatory.

Astrobiology is a field that is rapidly gaining momentum–due to scientific achievements such as the Curiosity Rover. This image should remind us of what we’ve achieved; how far we’ve come, and how much is still left to discover. The following excerpt, taken from Wikipedia, briefly explains the meaning of this image, along with its importance:

The Arecibo message was broadcast into space a single time via frequency modulated radio waves at a ceremony to mark the remodeling of the Arecibo radio telescope on 16 November 1974. It was aimed at the globular star cluster M13 some 25,000 light years away because M13 was a large and close collection of stars that was available in the sky at the time and place of the ceremony. The message consisted of 1679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 1000 kW. The “ones” and “zeros” were transmitted by frequency shifting at the rate of 10 bits per second. The total broadcast was less than three minutes.

The cardinality of 1679 was chosen because it is a semiprime (the product of two prime numbers), to be arranged rectangularly as 73 rows by 23 columns. The alternative arrangement, 23 rows by 73 columns, produces jumbled nonsense. The message forms the image shown on the right, or its inverse, when translated into graphics characters and spaces.

Dr. Frank Drake, then at Cornell University and creator of the Drake equation, wrote the message, with help from Carl Sagan, among others. The message consists of seven parts that encode the following (from the top down):

1. The numbers one (1) to ten (10)
2. The atomic numbers of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus, which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
3. The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA
4. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA
5. A graphic figure of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth
6. A graphic of the Solar System
7. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish.

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62 thoughts on “Last post of the school year: The Arecibo Message

  1. I think that we should solve all of our problems instead of looking for trouble. But it is interesting to know from our surroundings, even those from space. I read the website of national geographic and it explained he point of exploring space

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  2. This is a link to CETI that is a joined program between Arecibo Observatory and Cornell University, which os trying to communicate with extraterrestrial beings. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&hl=en&ei=G–CUZDwHpGG9gTk8YCIBg&q=ceti+program+arecibo+observatory&oq=ceti+program+arecibo+observatory&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.12…42287.44183.0.45360.4.4.0.0.0.0.435.1367.1j4-3.4.0.ehyp%2Ca%3D1%2Cb%3D100%2Cn%3D5%2Ct%3D2%2Cr%3D15%2Crequest_latlng%3Dtrue%2Cbase_dedup%3Dfalse..0.0…1c.1.12.mobile-gws-serp.VfTz-ZmK82c#itp=open0

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    • Carl Sagan—the dude I’m always raving about in class, and the creator of the series Cosmos, which I’ve shown in class a couple of times—contributed to the development of SETI. If we find ET life in the next few years, we will owe this discovery, in many ways, to the work of scientists like Carl Sagan: the best science teacher ever.

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  3. We cant be alone in a entire universe that is ridiculous ! It has been said many time that the extraterrestrial are our enemies… But why? Arent they supposed to be superior to our kind? Then why havent they come and “invaded” the earth? But that is just my point maybe they do exist but far away and i DO NOT think that they will try to harm us in any way.

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    • I agree that we are not alone, but I’m not totally convinced about intelligent life besides our own. Check out—via Google—the Drake equation. It might shed some light about the possibility of intelligent life in the universe, besides humans.

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  4. I agree that we are not alone in the universe. The universe is too big for just us to be living in it. Maybe we are superior than extraterrestrial kinds but we could also be equal or they could be superior to us. Maybe one day, in years, we will be able to prove that there is other life in the universe.

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  5. I also believe it is very unlikely that this is the only planet with living beings in it but it is just as unlikely that we are the only intelligent life or that we are intellectually superior. Although as I see it, if any civilization is advanced enough to receive that message, it could also be advanced enough to find us or even wage war on us! This simple message in sent just for curiosity’s sake might just bring about an intergalactic war, and if so might have just doomed us all. I know it sounds kind of far fetched but its not impossible!

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    • That would be so awesome. I would volunteer for an intergalactic war, defending planet Earth. I love Battlestar Galactica.

      And I agree with you. I honestly believe it is not far fetched. But I’m not betting on what year this possible doomsday would be. Let’s hope it happens several millennia from now.

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    • You are correct when stating that the video makes it seem as if crop circles were real. In other word, it has production value, but no scientific value at all. This is an example of what is known as ‘pseudoscience’. I encourage you to do a Google search of the concepty

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    • A very tempting description of the book. I want it:

      ““In April 2010, fifty years to the month after the first experiment in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), scholars from a range of disciplines—including astronomy, mathematics, anthropology, history, and cognitive science—gathered at NASA’s biennial Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) for a series of sessions on the search for intelligent life. This book highlights the most recent developments in SETI discussed at that conference, emphasizing the ways that SETI has grown since its inception.”

      Thanks for sharing, Kian.

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  6. this planet is to big for us to live alone i think that we are not alone there may be something out there in any other planet

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  7. I do believe we are not the only ones in this Universe and I believe it is great this communication to space, society has over the years changed and we need to realize that there is so much more to this life than just humans and planet Earth. That space and so much more is out there ready to be explored and discovered.

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  8. The fact that the message was sent almost 40 years ago, dissapoints me because it’s highly probable that contact with other kinds (if possible) will not happen in OUR lifetime… I have always dreamt meeting new kinds but it seems to far away to reach this dream :/

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    • It is highly probable that we will never find out wether we are alone or not. As we were saying a few hours ago, the light of a star that reaches our eyes during nighttime, might come from a celestial body that has ‘died’ millions of years before.

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  9. i think that we won’t we able to contact extraterrestial for decades.. it seems that if they are superior they don’t want to be seen or they would’ve come to Earth by now. Maybe that mesage was a warning about something or maybe it was a way to show us that they exists, but I still think they don not want to be seen

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    • The message was sent, basically, to make a point regarding the nature of science; which, in many ways, like art, entails the human condition. The main focus of this point is that curiosity, more than almost anything, fueles scientific achievements.

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  10. In my opinion, as many other of the people who commented here, I do think that there are other living beings in other planets. But my question is, is it that we try to communicate with them and they do not want to be seen and this is why we have still not communicated with them, or is it that because of media like movies of aliens taken over our planet that we do not search enough to find those other living beings in those other planets?

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  11. It’s amazing to think that since our universe is so enormous that we are the only living beings known to our race. I believe it is very possible that other living organisms do exist, and just as the way that we have evolved they can also do the same. There are many theories but none have been very appealing to the public. I hope to be alive when these amazing discoveries are showed to the general public.

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  12. Extraterestial life is basically a theory for know because it is what we think exists but no one really knows, there was a rumor that when lance armstrong went to the moon (if he really landed) that he saw some type of moving objects which were watching him, but again, nobody actually knows the truth.

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    • Armstrong landed on the moon. That is a fact. I encourage you to do a Google search on «debunking moon landing conspiracy theories». Those exact same words on the Google search bar.
      Chances are, you might come across some very compelling evidence that discredits every mayor conspiracy theory.

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  13. The universe is too big for us to be the only ones living in it. There has to be more life out there in other planets, but scientist still don’t have the technology to reach greater distances in witch there may be life.

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  14. This has always been a controversial topic but I’ve always put my thoughts stating that there has to be life in another planet or universe. Maybe both life forms have not yet reached the technological advances they need to achieve this. Its funny to think that we may be the aliens on their end, and once we find each other, how will we react?

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  15. lets say their are aliens and the message reaches them.. (hypothetically) who says they even understand our method of counting or cryptic message of numbers either way by the time the message reaches them witch is forever from now. that message has to travel 25 thousand light years to its destination. i really hope by that time we already understand and master the universe maybe even come up with a way to travel through space via worm hole. maybe we can be their for when the message reaches our closest neighbouring sun.

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    • Kevin. I believe this is a good moment for a summer reading recommendation: The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut.

      Also, I encourage you to Google the words “chronosynclastic infundibulum”–singular for “chronosynclastic infundibula”.

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  16. The observatory has made major contributions to our understanding of the chemistry and dynamics of the Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere. It has also been uniquely suited to search for signals from extraterrestrial life, by focusing on thousands of star systems in the 1,000MHz to 3,000 MHz range.

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  17. i think that this might be very big if another life ever responds it might be interesting what they would do.

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  18. I’m defenetly sure that we are not alone in this universe. The universe way to big for us to be the “onlyones” here. I think they’re out there. For sure. 🙂

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  19. i think its very interesting how the puerto rican radio telescope has so much power that it can send so much information to such a far off place like another sun even more interesting but i do not understand is how the information will get there how do they know that that sun will still be there in so much time and how do they know that the information wont get their corrupted…???

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  20. This is a funny picture. This seems like a little boys game or something but it is far from that. And yes you are right we have to remind ourselves of what has been accomplished throughout the years.

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  21. Pingback: The Hypertextual Lounge: blogging, Vygotsky y Sagan | Puerto Rico Indie

  22. Astrobiology is the branch of biology that studies life on earth and in space. In Puerto Rico we have the Arecibo radio telescope which is used for astrobiology. Even though we haven’t found any sign of life in other plantes I can’t believe that we are the only living organisms in the universe. We will never know everything, there is always something new to learn and discover and mayebe life on other planets is just something our technology can’t detect. Below there is a link that shows us the posibility of life on other planets but they are too far away to study.

    http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/18/us/planet-discovery/index.html

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  23. Carl Sagan has also contributed in another message towards space. It is known as the pioneer plaque. There were two copies of the plaque that were placed on the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space crafts which were the first to leave the Solar System in 1972 and 1973. It was basically a few drawings and pictures of humans and were we come from. I liked how the man waving can was not only placed to show movement but as a greeting to anyone or anything out in space. I obtained most of the information from Wikipedia but I remembered it from a selection in one of our elementary English books.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_plaque

    Here is a link for a picture:

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