Alien message sent to Earth, the SETI test

An unprecedented test set up by SETI institute and Medicina Radio Astronomical Station involves sending an "alien" message towards Earth
Artistic representation of the European Trace Gas Orbiter at work around Mars. The probe will send an alien test message to Earth as part of the A Sign in Space project by the SETI Institute. Credit: ESA

On May 24th, the European probe Trace Gas Orbiter Mars transmitted an encoded “alien” message to our planet as part of a test by the SETI institute. Sixteen minutes later, it was received by three large radio telescopes on Earth, initiating a global effort to decipher the cryptic signal.

A Sign in Space is a multi-week project led by Daniela de Paulis. The current multimedia artist and radio operator is based at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia.

Significance of test

“Throughout history, humanity has sought meaning in powerful and transformative phenomena” said de Paulis in a statement (ref.). “Receiving an alien message would be a profoundly transformative experience for all of humanity” she added. “A Sign in Space is a SETI test that offers an unprecedented opportunity to tangibly experience and prepare for the reception of an alien message. By promoting global collaboration, it encourages the open pursuit of meaning in all cultures and disciplines”.

The Green Bank Observatory is one of the three telescopes that listened to the signal from the Trace Gas Orbiter. The other two are the Allen Telescope Array at the SETI Institute in California and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station in northern Italy, operated by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics.

Researchers from these facilities are processing the signal and will make it available to their colleagues worldwide and the general public. The project team wants people from different backgrounds to study the signal and attempt to decipher it.

Collective participation

“This experiment is an opportunity for the world to learn how the diverse SETI community will work together to receive, process, analyze, and understand the meaning of a potential extraterrestrial signal” said Wael Farah, a scientist on the project.

“More than just astronomy, communicating with ET will require a broad range of knowledge” Farah said. “With A Sign in Space, we hope to take the first steps toward bringing together a community to tackle this challenge”. Anyone can participate in the A Sign in Space project and delve deeper into the topic or submit ideas by visiting the website.

In the next six to eight weeks, the project team will host a series of online meetings focusing on the social implications of detecting a “technosignature” from advanced alien life, among other topics. To learn more or participate in these open workshops, visit the SETI Institute’s website.

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