Alien Message From Space Simulated For First Time

SETI is simulating an alien message and is inviting the public to help translate it.

By Phillip Moyer | Updated

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We have a bit of an obsession with the idea of extraterrestrial contact here on Earth, with every single strange radio burst making us wonder whether we’re receiving an alien message. But scientists have never taken the time to simulate what we’d do if we actually did receive an alien message — until now, that is. SETI researchers have announced a project, called “A Sign in Space,” that will send a simulated message to Earth with the intent of letting professionals, researchers, and the broader global community rehearse what they would do if such a message were received.

The idea for “A Sign in Space” comes from artist Daniela de Paulis, who was assigned to create an art project that would be uploaded to a satellite. Her plan to send a simulated alien message received the endorsement of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics in June 2020. After almost three years of presenting the plan to the scientific community and planning the project, it’s time for the message to be sent.

On May 24 at 19:00 UTC / 12:00 pm PDT, the alien message will be sent by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a spacecraft sent to Mars by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2016. Three different astronomy observatories are poised to detect the message when it arrives 16 minutes later — the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station in Italy, and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in California. The content of the encoded message is unknown — it will be up to the public to help decode it.

To accomplish this, team members at the three observatories will make the signal available to the public. According to SETI, the purpose of this exercise is to learn how the SETI community will work together to analyze and decode a possible alien message. The hope is that the worldwide network of people searching for extraterrestrials will find a way to utilize a breadth of knowledge to solve the problem.

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SETI will host a live stream discussion about the project 45 minutes before the simulated alien message is sent to Earth. This discussion will feature key team members, including SETI’s Dr. Franck Marchis and Green Bank Observatory’s Victoria Catlett. Scientists, artists, engineers, and team members will be interviewed as part of the live stream. 

The team has set up a Discord server for anyone who wants to take part in decoding the alien message. The A Sign in Space team will also host discussions around the alien message via Zoom, with registration links set up for anyone that wants to join. Anyone who believes they’ve made a substantial discovery or has input that they want to share with the team can use the project’s dedicated submission form.

More information about A Sign in Space can be found on the official website. The site includes further information about the history of the project, explanations about what the project hopes to accomplish, and information about how the planned collaboration will take place.