In the 1997 film “Contact”, Jodie Foster plays an astronomer, Ellie Arroway, who detects an alien radio signal from outer space. Eventually, the fictional Dr. Arroway goes on a journey through hyperspace to commune with an alien presence appearing in the form of her dead father.
Now it’s your turn to be Mrs. Foster.
In an act that’s part interplanetary performance art and part dress rehearsal for an event astronomers hope will one day unfold, a coded radio message from Mars will ping radio telescopes on Earth on Wednesday.
But this will only be a test.
Receiving this signal is meant to trigger a worldwide game of decryption and decoding, according to astronomers from the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which organized the event and is dedicated to finding evidence of intelligence. extraterrestrial, mainly in the world. form of interstellar radio signals. Anyone can follow A connection space, a website which will host comments, guesses and weekly workshops on what all of this could mean.
In half a century of anxious listening, radio astronomers have yet to hear extraterrestrial signals sent intentionally or accidentally by other civilizations. But there are only about 200 billion stars left in the Milky Way galaxy to comb for life, they say.
The message that will be used in Wednesday’s test was crafted by a team led by Daniela de Paulis, a media artist and former contemporary dancer who is also an amateur radio operator. She is artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute and the Green Bank Observatory, which houses a giant antenna operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank, W.Va. Ms. de Paulis’ work is centered around space, and no one will know what her message says until they decipher it.
If they can.
In 1974, Frank Drakethe father of SETI, designed a message be teleported into space by the deceased Arecibo radio antenna. It consisted of 1,679 zeros and ones. When arranged in rows and columns, it formed images of a stick man, a DNA helix, numbers and more. None of Dr. Drake’s colleagues at Cornell University, including Carl Sagan, the famous extraterrestrial life evangelist, could fully decipher it.
Wednesday’s event will begin with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a robotic explorer operated above Mars by the European Space Agency. The spacecraft will transmit the coded message at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. A quarter of an hour later, the signal will arrive on Earth, where three telescopes will listen for it: the Allen Telescope Array at the SETI Institute in Northern California; the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia; and the Medicina radio astronomy station near Bologna, Italy.
Teams from each observatory will process the signal and then share it on the experiment site. And then all Earthlings can get started.
“Throughout history, humanity has sought meaning from powerful and transformative phenomena,” said de Paulis, in a press release from the SETI Institute. “Receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a profoundly transformative experience for all of humanity.”
Whether Ms. de Paulis’ experience on Wednesday is so transformative remains to be seen. But that won’t be the only activity over the next few days devoted to things that may or may not come from beyond this world.
Following the announcement in recent years that the The Pentagon was investigating reports of unidentified flying objects, NASA appointed a committee bring scientific standards to the study of what the government prefers to call Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, or UAPs
The space agency plans to hold a public meeting on May 31 to discuss the results so far.
Spend an extraordinary week.