If someone (or rather something) out there wanted to send us a message, would we be able to receive it? What would happen if some alien life form wanted to communicate with humanity? Would we be prepared to hear his call? And can we interpret it? These questions have swarmed in the collective imagination for centuries. But now, at last, we begin to glimpse an answer. Earth has successfully received the first mock alien message and, although in this case it is a mere technical trial, its success shows that the time has come for the Would humanity be able to capture extraterrestrial signals?.

The experiment, devised by the artist Daniela de Paulis, was carried out last week. The European probe ExoMars Orbiterwhich for almost a decade has been exploring the atmosphere of the red planet, sent what could be «a message that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization eventually i could send to Earth». The signal has been captured by at least four radio astronomy observatories around the world (centres equipped with giant antennas dedicated entirely to ‘x-raying’ the electromagnetic waves that swarm in the cosmos). This is the Allen Telescope Array (California), the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (Virginia), the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (New Mexico) and the observatory of the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (Bologna -La Mancha) and the Portuguese located in the Azores also seem to have picked up this signal.

But what exactly the message? How did you get this sign? AND When will we know if this extraterrestrial contact drill has been received correctly?? As explained by the promoters of this project, all these issues will continue, for now, in the air. The exact content of the message, in fact, remains unknown even for many of the scientists who have been involved in this project. It is not known whether it is a text, a drawing or some kind of hieroglyph. It is not even clear if the content is something tangible like a slogan or, on the contrary, it is something abstract like a work of art. We only know that it has been chosen under the strictest secrecy by members of a select committee of experts.

The exact content of the message remains unknown even to many of the scientists who have succeeded in this project.

The big radio telescopes have not yet given their final verdict, but even so, there are some who already venture to provide some data about your observations. From Germany, for example, the antennas of the Sternwarte Bochum explain that they have managed to capture almost the entire message except for «a few frames that cannot be decoded.» Altogether, these facilities have recorded about 10 GB of data During the event and now, according to their technicians, the work will focus on trying to recover the lost material.

Are you able to decode an alien signal?

The challenge of this experiment, then, is to see if all the large radio telescopes on the globe have been able to capture this signal and, if so, if they were able to successfully decode the message. This first simulation of an extraterrestrial message has also been published on the official website of the initiative along with a invitation to the general public to try to translate it. In the tests of this project, the Martian probe sent an encrypted message that It turned out to be a group photo. of the scientific team that has led this project. Now, the scientists encourage the public to send in the «scientific data, thoughts, sketches, drawings and ideas» that they believe the signal contains.

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The call to ‘decode’ the extraterrestrial signal it will remain open for six to eight weeks. During all this time, the promoters of this project will carry out various workshops and activities to, for example, explain how they are currently working to process and decode how electromagnetic waves come from space or how the great scientific institutions of the globe are preparing for an eventual discovery of extraterrestrial life. All these debates will be discussed from different cultural and ethical perspectives and, as explained by Daniela de Paulis, the artistic aspect will also be taken into account.

The promoters of this project have opened a public call for anyone to try to decode the message

and that’s how The ‘A sign in space’ project officially takes off, an initiative inspired by the homonymous story published by Ítalo Calvino in 1964. This story, from the ‘Cosmicomics’ collection, tells the story of an extraterrestrial being who, faced with the imminent death of his galaxy, becomes obsessed with leaving behind some sign of its existence. One of the most intriguing elements of this story is the unknown of if, once sent, this signal will reach somewhere and if it will be interpreted as it plays. This same doubt is the one that, today, stars in the future of this curious extraterrestrial experiment.