Scientists Wrote a New Message to Intelligent Aliens

Beacon in the Galaxy is the latest in a series of attempts to contact other lifeforms in the universe.
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Image: Part of the new message scientists wrote to communicate with intelligent aliens.

Scientists have developed a new message that could be beamed to intelligent aliens that might exist in the Milky Way, reports Scientific American

The new spacebound note, named the Beacon in the Galaxy (BITG), is the latest in a series of attempts to contact other lifeforms in the universe that date back to a message sent in 1974 from Puerto Rico’s Arecibo telescope to a star cluster. 

The beacon was devised by Jonathan Jiang, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his colleagues, who published their motivations and methodology in a study on the preprint site arXiv. Preprint studies are not peer-reviewed.


“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,” Jiang and his colleagues said in the study. 


“The message concludes with digitized images of the human form, along with an invitation for any receiving intelligences to respond,” the team added.

Given that we have no idea how intelligent aliens might communicate, or whether they exist at all, it’s challenging to imagine a language that might be, for lack of a better term, universal. Jiang and his colleagues opted to take a similar tack to many previous interstellar messages by writing the BITG in binary code. The beacon could be transmitted with the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope in China and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in California to a region in our galaxy that is deemed most likely to host life.

“Though the concept of mathematics in human terms is potentially unrecognizable to ETI, binary is likely universal across all intelligence,” the researchers said. “Binary is the simplest form of mathematics as it involves only two opposing states: zero and one, yes or no, black or white, mass or empty space. Hence, the transmission of the code as binary would very likely be understandable to all ETI and is the basis of the BITG message.”


Humans have sent many messages intended for aliens to outer space over the years, including the physical Golden Records onboard NASA’s Voyager probes, which, like BITG, also carry images of the naked human form. However, these attempts to establish contact with an alien race are not without controversy. Some experts have warned that broadcasting Earth’s position in the galaxy could be an invitation for a potentially hostile species to do damage to our world. Jiang and his colleagues acknowledge this risk, but ultimately counter that any aliens capable of deciphering the BITG message are not likely to be aggressive conquerors.

“Logic suggests a species which has reached sufficient complexity to achieve communication through the cosmos would also very likely have attained high levels of cooperation amongst themselves and thus will know the importance of peace and collaboration,” the team said.  

In a similar vein, Jiang and his colleagues point to our own human history as a communicative species to support their renewed attempts at contacting other intelligent beings in the galaxy.

“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,” the researchers noted. “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 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 said.