Over forty years ago today, in 1974, a message was sent from the observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to … well, any life forms out in space that might be available to receive a message. A spokesperson for the observatory emphasized that it was a “symbolic” event rather than the beginning of a conversation.
The three minute radio message contains information about Earth and human beings. In 1974, scientists figured that radio would be the most likely means of communication for any technologically advanced beings. They hoped the radio waves would reach someone somewhere in the universe who was looking for evidence of sentient life. The message was intended to demonstrate to the watching alien life forms that Earth contains intelligent life.
The message consists of 1,679 binary digits which can be arranged in a grid to create pictographs showing the observatory, a stick figure representing a human being, and the DNA double helix, among other information. Carl Sagan and a group of researchers from Cornell created the message. It was the first and is still the most powerful broadcast ever sent into the stars.
The message has traveled 259 trillion miles so far, a tiny fraction of its intended journey. It was aimed at a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away. If beings there receive the message, decode it, and answer quickly, a response could reach Puerto Rico in another 49,956 years.
The Arecibo Observatory is celebrating its 55th anniversary. The 1,000 foot dish was until recently the largest telescope in the world. The Observatory has been repaired since Hurricane Maria and recently received a $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to design and build a new antenna for the dish. The facility is open to the public, and is an important part of STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Math) education efforts in Puerto Rico.
Google is celebrating the anniversary with a Doodle, but people in the States will not be able to see it. The Doodle is visible in China, India, most of Europe, Australia, and parts of South America and Northern Africa, as well as in Puerto Rico. See it.