SETI: Earth to receive a simulated 'alien transmission' on May 24

On the 24th of May, a program called "A Sign in Space" will send a fake "alien transmission" from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter to test how we would react.
Christopher McFadden
SETI Hat Creek Radio Observatory.


A new initiative has been announced in cooperation with SETI to determine what we would do if we ever received an actual alien transmission from space. Called "A Sign in Space," the project combines an interdisciplinary group of experts, like artists and scientists, to find a way to decode and understand such messages should we ever receive one.

As a project initiative, the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which orbits around Mars, will send an encoded message to Earth on May 24, 2023. This transmission aims to simulate the act of receiving a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence.

Across the globe, three radio astronomy observatories will receive the encoded message. These include the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) at the SETI Institute, the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station overseen by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF). The exact details of the encoded message have not been revealed yet, which gives the public a chance to help decode and interpret its meaning.

“Throughout history, humanity has searched for meaning in powerful and transformative phenomena,” said Daniela dePaulis, the visionary artist behind the A Sign in Space project.“Receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a profoundly transformational experience for all humankind. A Sign in Space offers the unprecedented opportunity to tangibly rehearse and prepare for this scenario through global collaboration, fostering an open-ended search for meaning across all cultures and disciplines,” she added.

The encoded message from the ESA ExoMars Orbiter is scheduled for transmission at 19:00 UTC / 12:00 pm PDT and will be received on Earth 16 minutes later. To keep the public informed, the SETI Institute is organizing a live stream event on social media, where key team members such as engineers, scientists, and artists will be interviewed.

Participants from various locations around the globe, including control rooms from the ATA, the GBT, and Medicina, will join the live stream. Dr. Franck Marchis will host it from the SETI Institute and Victoria Catlett from GBO; the live stream will begin at 11:15 am PDT.

“This experiment is an opportunity for the world to learn how the SETI community, in all its diversity, will work together to receive, process, analyze, and understand the meaning of a potential extraterrestrial signal,” said Project Scientist Dr. Wael Farah. “More than astronomy, communicating with ET will require a breadth of knowledge. With 'A Sign in Space,' we hope to make the initial steps towards bringing a community together to meet this challenge,” they added.

Anyone who decodes and interprets the message can discuss the process in the "A Sign in Space Discord" server. Submissions of findings, thoughts, and artistic and scientific inputs may be made through the dedicated submission form on the project’s website.

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