Google remembers interstellar Arecibo message with animated doodle

Published - November 16, 2018 07:42 am IST

The quest of humankind to find company in the vast universe went one step further when a group of scientists sent a “message” to a faraway cluster of stars, hoping that any aliens living there would receive it and reciprocate. Friday marks the 44th anniversary of this interstellar communication and Google remembered the feat with an animated doodle.

The doodle visible in most of Asia, Australia, parts of Europe and South America was designed by Gerben Steenks. The alphabets of Google fades into radio signals and comes back in the form of pictograph. The original message sent in 1974 was encoded to transmit various data including atomic numbers, DNA and even pictorial representation of a telescope.

On November 16, 1974, a group of scientists including Frank Drake, the creator of the Drake equation, and American astronomer Carl Sagan sent a less-than-three-minute radio message to Messier 13 (M13), a globular cluster in the constellation of Hercules which is 25,000 light years away. The message consisted of 1,679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2,380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 450 kW. The message was sent from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

If at all there is an Earth-like planet in Hercules with intelligent life in it, the message will take more than 25,000 years to reach them! But there was another purpose for this experiment — to display the capabilities of the upgraded Arecibo telescope. “It was strictly a symbolic event, to show that we could do it,” said Donald Campbell, Cornell University professor of astronomy, who was a research associate at the Arecibo Observatory at the time.

In the 44 years since it was first transmitted, the message has travelled 259 trillion miles, only a tiny fraction of the 146,965,638,531,210,240 or so miles to its final destination, according to a Google blog post. But we may not have to wait so long for a reply.

Last year, researchers at Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) International reached out to GJ 273, also known as Luyten’s star, with a “simpler” Arecibo message. The star, a red dwarf in the northern constellation of Canis Minor, is 12 light years away. The star has two planets. One of them, known as GJ 273b, orbits within the “habitable zone” and could potentially harbour liquid water, and perhaps life, METI researchers said. If we have extra-terrestrial company, we would know within 25 years.

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