MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — An international team of space scientists and artists have come together for a simulated “dress rehearsal” of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrial life. The project, titled “A Sign in Space,” invites the public to interpret a mock message from an alien civilization, transmitted from a satellite in orbit around Mars. This global experiment offers an opportunity to prepare for what could be a deeply transformative event for humankind.
The simulated signal, transmitted from Mars’ orbit, was received on Earth approximately 16 minutes later on May 24th. Radio telescopes in California and West Virginia, and another in Italy, received the signal. Following the transmission, the international team decoded the specific, encoded message, which remained a mystery until that point.
Interdisciplinary artist and licensed radio operator, Daniela de Paulis, assembled the international team for what she terms a “revolutionary presentation of global theater.” Currently serving as the Artist in Residence at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and the Green Bank Observatory, her project aims to explore the process of decoding and interpreting an alien message. This process will involve the global SETI community, professionals from all fields, and the public at large.
“Throughout history, humanity has searched for meaning in powerful and transformative phenomena,” says de Paulis in a media release. “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.”
The transmission was sent from the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), simulating the reception of a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence. Three leading radio astronomy observatories located globally detected the encoded message, including SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in California, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station near Bologna in northern Italy, managed by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).
“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,” says ATA Project Scientist Dr. Wael Farah.
In collaboration with the Breakthrough Listen Open Data Archive and Filecoin, the SETI Institute will securely store the processed data, ensuring its preservation and accessibility for further analysis and decoding.
Participants decoding the message can join the discussion on the A Sign in Space Discord server. Submissions of findings, insights, and artistic and scientific input can be made through the dedicated submission form on the project’s website.
The A Sign in Space team is also hosting a series of public Zoom discussions considering the societal implications of detecting a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization.
South West News Service writer James Gamble contributed to this report.