Home // 2011 // November

The Arecibo Message, 37 Years Later: Think It’s Gonna Be a Long, Long Time…

The Arecibo Message was sent on November 16, 1974.

In case you missed it, last week marked the 37th anniversary of the Arecibo Message, the human species’ first really serious attempt to start a conversation with extraterrestrials, in this case the denizens of globular star cluster M13.

We transmitted our message (shown right) from the Arecibo radio telescope on November 16, 1974. Among other things, the message shows our solar system (the yellow squares) and provides detailed information about the composition of human DNA — just in case our friends might like to build their own set of Lego people. As you can see, there’s even an illustration of what the critters should look like if the instructions are properly followed.

Hopefully, no one will have one of those angry IKEA-like experiences during the assembly process.

At the bottom of the message is a purple graphic of  the Arecibo radio telescope, which is located in Puerto Rico. Compared to a photo of the telescope, it’s not a bad rendition.

As far as I can tell, the Arecibo Message did not include the exact location of the telescope – probably a good thing for the folks living in Puerto Rico.

“Hey, Zorzwitt, now that we’ve arrived, I see the critters here don’t match their picture. Should we fix that?”

“Sure Xaxsar, that sounds fun!”

Traveling at the speed of light, the Arecibo Message will arrive at the M13 star cluster 24,963 years from now. Any reply will take 25,000 years to get back to Earth.

Thank you, Mr. Spock.

Believe me, there’s more than one person I wish I could tell, “Sorry, but it’ll be at least 25,000 years before I can get back to you, okay?”

But seriously, if Earth did receive some reply to the Arecibo Message, would anyone still be here to get it?

Rather than the Arecibo Message, a better set of assumptions about interstellar communication might start with The Queen’s Messenger. Broadcast in New York in 1928, the first television show was a rather violent, blood and daggers story of a British diplomat’s tryst with a Russian spy.

The Queen’s Messenger has traveled 83 light-years so far, and already has reached many stars. In its first 50 years of travel alone, it would have gotten to well over 100 stars, some of which are likely to have Earth-like planets.

The first TV show is about to reach a new batch of G-type stars, which are yellow stars like our Sun, such as 23 Librae, that has two planets. If anyone there sees The Queen’s Messenger and decides to send back a reply, we might receive it sometime in 2096.

But then again, we may never hear a peep. Extraterrestrials may be smarter than most Earthlings, and perhaps don’t watch much television.  Instead, they prefer writing blog posts, or occupying themselves building complicated things with the Legos they just learned about.