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alien communication [try it]

Vinay

Back in 1974, a message was beamed out from the Arecibo radio telescope towards the globular cluster M13. The hope is that it will be intercepted by some alien civilization that will then study it and learn some basic things about us. The full message, encoded as a string of two distinct patterns, is given below.

00000010101010000000000001010000010100000001001000100010001001011001010101010101010100100100000000000000000000000000000000000001100000000000000000001101000000000000000000011010000000000000000001010100000000000000000011111000000000000000000000000000000001100001110001100001100010000000000000110010000110100011000110000110101111101111101111101111100000000000000000000000000100000000000000000100000000000000000000000000001000000000000000001111110000000000000111110000000000000000000000011000011000011100011000100000001000000000100001101000011000111001101011111011111011111011111000000000000000000000000001000000110000000001000000000001100000000000000010000011000000000011111100000110000001111100000000001100000000000001000000001000000001000001000000110000000100000001100001100000010000000000110001000011000000000000000110011000000000000011000100001100000000011000011000000100000001000000100000000100000100000001100000000100010000000011000000001000100000000010000000100000100000001000000010000000100000000000011000000000110000000011000000000100011101011000000000001000000010000000000000010000011111000000000000100001011101001011011000000100111001001111111011100001110000011011100000000010100000111011001000000101000001111110010000001010000011000000100000110110000000000000000000000000000000000011100000100000000000000111010100010101010101001110000000001010101000000000000000010100000000000000111110000000000000000111111111000000000000111000000011100000000011000000000001100000001101000000000101100000110011000000011001100001000101000001010001000010001001000100100010000000010001010001000000000000100001000010000000000001000000000100000000000000100101000000000001111001111101001111000

What can you figure out from this? Keep in mind that aliens wouldn’t think like us, or know any of our languages, but they can be expected to share some common knowledge, like mathematics and atomic physics, and could be fairly expected to have radio receivers capable of detecting the signal. Naturally, that stream is not really made up of the numbers 0 and 1. We can equally well write it out using dots and dashes (do not assume it is Morse code!),
......-.-.-.-............-.-.....-.-.......-..-...-...-...-..-.--..-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-..-..-.....................................--...................--.-...................--.-..................-.-.-..................-----................................--....---...--....--...-.............--..-....--.-...--...--....--.-.-----.-----.-----.-----..........................-.................-............................-.................------.............-----.......................--....--....---...--...-.......-.........-....--.-....--...---..--.-.-----.-----.-----.-----..........................-......--.........-...........--...............-.....--..........------.....--......-----..........--.............-........-........-.....-......--.......-.......--....--......-..........--...-....--...............--..--.............--...-....--.........--....--......-.......-......-........-.....-.......--........-...-........--........-...-.........-.......-.....-.......-.......-.......-............--.........--........--.........-...---.-.--...........-.......-..............-.....-----............-....-.---.-..-.--.--......-..---..-..-------.---....---.....--.---.........-.-.....---.--..-......-.-.....------..-......-.-.....--......-.....--.--...................................---.....-..............---.-.-...-.-.-.-.-.-..---.........-.-.-.-................-.-..............-----................---------............---.......---.........--...........--.......--.-.........-.--.....--..--.......--..--....-...-.-.....-.-...-....-...-..-...-..-...-........-...-.-...-............-....-....-............-.........-..............-..-.-...........----..-----.-..----...
or even spaces and symbols,
______*_*_*_*____________*_*_____*_*_______*__*___*___*___*__*_**__*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*__*__*_____________________________________**___________________**_*___________________**_*__________________*_*_*__________________*****________________________________**____***___**____**___*_____________**__*____**_*___**___**____**_*_*****_*****_*****_*****__________________________*_________________*____________________________*_________________******_____________*****_______________________**____**____***___**___*_______*_________*____**_*____**___***__**_*_*****_*****_*****_*****__________________________*______**_________*___________**_______________*_____**__________******_____**______*****__________**_____________*________*________*_____*______**_______*_______**____**______*__________**___*____**_______________**__**_____________**___*____**_________**____**______*_______*______*________*_____*_______**________*___*________**________*___*_________*_______*_____*_______*_______*_______*____________**_________**________**_________*___***_*_**___________*_______*______________*_____*****____________*____*_***_*__*_**_**______*__***__*__*******_***____***_____**_***_________*_*_____***_**__*______*_*_____******__*______*_*_____**______*_____**_**___________________________________***_____*______________***_*_*___*_*_*_*_*_*__***_________*_*_*_*________________*_*______________*****________________*********____________***_______***_________**___________**_______**_*_________*_**_____**__**_______**__**____*___*_*_____*_*___*____*___*__*___*__*___*________*___*_*___*____________*____*____*____________*_________*______________*__*_*___________****__*****_*__****___

Start by counting how many characters are in the stream. Is that mathematically interesting in some way that may help to redisplay the message in a form that makes more sense?

If we detected such a stream, would we recognize it as being from an intelligent civilization? Are the interpretations of the encoded information unique? Can you devise a better encoding system, or a better set of data to encode?

6 Comments

  1. atul wrote:

    is it binary?
    very hard to decode.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Vinay wrote:

    It is binary in the sense that there are two characters. I could equally well have used “A” and “B” in place of “0” and “1”.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 12:22 am | Permalink
  3. atul wrote:

    But wouldn’t that be hard for them to decode, if they would not have known binary?

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  4. Vinay wrote:

    The assumption is that they would know at least as much math, physics, and chemistry as we did as a civilization in 1974.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  5. atul wrote:

    hmmm. i guess the last point is nice. if they have a different interpretation system, its gonna mean something different for them na… ? :)

    And does the code that you gave really mean anything or a random code? if so, what it means?

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  6. Vinay wrote:

    It is not random code. This is what was beamed out, with the expectation that what any intelligence needs is math and physics to decode it and understand the message.

    I am setting these out as projects for students to carry out, so I am afraid I cannot give out the decoded message. It is for the reader to work on and figure out.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink