Humans have cooked up a new message to beam into space and attract the attention of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe: a binary-coded message explaining the biochemical composition of life on Earth and information about the location of our Solar System.
Dubbed the Beacon in the Galaxy (BITG) message, it’s effectively a revamped version of the Arecibo message, an interstellar radio message carrying basic information about humanity and Earth that was sent to globular star cluster M13 in 1974. The BITG message is just a hypothetical proposal so far, but it hopes to be a more advanced and more detailed successor to the Arecibo message.
A description of the BITG project, led by Jonathan Jiang from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and colleagues, was recently posted online on the pre-print server arXiv.
“The proposed message includes basic mathematical and physical concepts to establish a universal means of communication followed by information on the biochemical composition of life on Earth, the Solar System's time-stamped position in the Milky Way relative to known globular clusters, as well as digitized depictions of the Solar System, and Earth's surface,” the paper reads.
“The message concludes with digitized images of the human form, along with an invitation for any receiving intelligences to respond.”
Reaching out to our galactic neighbors might sound like a courteous way to behave as a wannabe multi-planetary species, but it’s not an idea that everyone agrees with. Stephen Hawking, the iconic theoretical physicist, once cautioned against trying to get in contact with an alien civilization. Hawking looked at one aspect of human history and noted an unpleasant trend that can occur when two civilizations are introduced to each other: conflict, violence, and domination.
"If intelligent life has evolved [elsewhere], we should be able to hear it," said Hawking. "One day we might receive a signal from a planet like this, but we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well."
We can not possibly understand how extraterrestrial intelligent life would respond if it were ever to meet Earthlings and it might be foolish to assume they act as short-sighted as some human cultures have in the past. However, it would be equally naive to assume they’d necessarily want to be our friends.
Nevertheless, the creators of the BITG message look to another side of human history and reach a much more optimistic conclusion. Although life is fundamentally competitive, it’s also enriched by communication and cooperation. Perhaps if humans are to ever venture beyond our home planet, a little help from our neighbors would be appreciated.
“Since the first faint flickering of sentience dawned in the primal minds of modern humans’ distant ancestors some hundred thousand generations ago, we have sought to communicate. Cooperation facilitated by rudimentary grunts and gestures may well have been the difference between extinction on the African veldt and eventual mastery of the Earth,” the researchers write.
“The skies above us today, not so unlike the world which lay just over the African horizon two million years ago, invite our best efforts to pursue with renewed conviction and better means those answers we instinctively seek,” they later add.