What are we saying to the aliens?
July 28, 2005 3:44 PM   Subscribe

The top of this little sign says, "This compressed message [from the NAIC-Arecibo Observatory] is a mathematical puzzle for an intelligent species to solve. The answer will reveal information about the Earth and its people." I got nothin'. Help?
posted by gleuschk to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This is the Arecibo message.
posted by jjg at 3:53 PM on July 28, 2005


it's in binary.
posted by CrazyJoel at 3:55 PM on July 28, 2005


Oh, rats, jjg. Thanks -- I feel a tool.
posted by gleuschk at 3:57 PM on July 28, 2005


My basic interpretation, although this is probably at the Arecibo page linked above, but I'm a "blind" viewer.. is bottom is earth, next up demonstrates relative mass of planets, Earth is third and inverted. Then there's a man. Kinda lost after there from the "commonsense" perspective, but I guess I'll go and read now.. ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 3:59 PM on July 28, 2005


apparently, the original Arecibo message was answered at Chilbolton.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2005


Aliens! We have Teletext!
posted by fire&wings at 4:24 PM on July 28, 2005


On second thought, I don't feel at all like a tool. I just think this is one of those things I would've liked to've known before today. Somehow. How? By asking MetaFilter! Thanks, AskMe!

and "mathematical" is a bit of a stretch -- I had hoped it could be something that could be worked out by pure cogitation. Why on earth would you add in an irrelevant bottom row that makes straight binary approaches look nonsensical?
posted by gleuschk at 4:28 PM on July 28, 2005


mcsweetie, that Chilbolton crop circle link was hilarious. I'd never heard of the Chilbolton crop circle before. A search turned up this analysis of the Chilbolton crop circle - I bring it up here because, in the process of looking at the crop circle, it presents a nice breakdown of the original Arecibo message.
posted by RichardP at 4:37 PM on July 28, 2005


The extra bottom row is not irrelevant. It marks the least significant digit of each number.
posted by grouse at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2005


I just think this is one of those things I would've liked to've known before today. Somehow. How? By asking MetaFilter! Thanks, AskMe!

I'm with you. This is interesting stuff!
posted by ericb at 4:59 PM on July 28, 2005


RichardP - thanks for that analysis link.
posted by ericb at 5:00 PM on July 28, 2005


It marks the least significant digit of each number.

Oh, I get it now -- I glanced at the image on Wikipedia and assumed it was 1 ... 10 from left to right, and so the bottom row didn't do anything useful. It's right-to-left, though, which makes much more sense. Thanks.
posted by gleuschk at 5:05 PM on July 28, 2005


And now that I read the discussion page, I see that the image at Wikipedia is mirrored left-right for some reason.
posted by gleuschk at 6:46 PM on July 28, 2005


The best is how the product of two primes implies the 2d structure. Even if the message is tricky, the form of the message is clear.
posted by 31d1 at 9:58 PM on July 28, 2005


I should say, the extra marker chunks in the numbers make more sense to me considering the image is built from a one dimensional stream of on and offs.
posted by 31d1 at 10:02 PM on July 28, 2005


Ack, the live preview makes me too talktive.

Any chemistry knowledgeable person want to try and explain the molecular structure parts to a layman?
posted by 31d1 at 10:04 PM on July 28, 2005


31d1 -- it isn't that complicated. First there's a binary representation of the element numbers for hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus. Then these are combined to show the nucleotides, which are the chemical building blocks of DNA and RNA. Then there's a diagram of a double helix with the number of nucleotides (you know, ACGT). Nothing fancy, just a "we're made of this" ingredients list.

I believe it was the Pioneer 10 & 11 plaque, by the way, that inspired the wag comment to its proponent Carl Sagan that the simplest translation was "Eat Here" ...
posted by dhartung at 12:23 AM on July 29, 2005


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