SETI Creates Fictional Alien Radio Message to Test Humans' Decoding Abilities

Jul 7, 2023

From the movie Contact to TV shows like The Twilight Zonescience fiction has always been fascinated with how to translate languages from other worlds. 

Daniela de Paulis is an artist and radio operator. She works for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. She did a real test to see how we might understand a radio message from space that's not from humans.  

De Paulis worked with other scientists. She made a signal that had data and a hidden message.  On May 24, it was sent to Earth from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. This spacecraft is circling Mars at the moment. Astronomers picked up the message in California, West Virginia, and Italy.  

“This kind of experiment is long overdue," Franck Marchis told New Scientist. He is a SETI astronomer in California. He said that groups have been searching for these kinds of signals for over 60 years. However, they hadn't thought about what receiving and decoding one would be like. 

The message was put on a network called Filecoin where data is stored. Scientists and codebreakers are now talking about the project on a chat platform called Discord. Anyone can join the discussion. 

De Paulis hasn't said what the message means. She said she won't give any clues unless people are having a hard time figuring it out. 

The project will take time. That's because it requires people with different skills to work together, de Paulis told CNN. But that was the point. She added that a message from space belongs to all of us, so we should all get to help understand it.

Photo by M. Kornmesser courtesy of of Wikimedia Commons. 

Reflect: If you could send a message into space, what would you want it to say?

Which word from the story means “captivated or intrigued”? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. “overdue”
b. “fascinated”
c. “science fiction”
d. “decoding”
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