ET Gets the Wrong Number
From Encounter 2000
Encounter 2001, the Millennial Voyage, is the
first interstellar mission for everyone who
believes that intelligent life exists beyond our
solar system. Encounter 2001 is another of
humanity's early efforts to accomplish perhaps its
greatest social, technological and spiritual
imperative: FIRST CONTACT.
For many of us, the opportunity to personally
participate in a real space mission has seemed beyond our reach.
Now, with Encounter 2001, we have the chance for millions of us to go!
Encounter 2001 scans and stores your photo, drawing and message on
the latest in optical storage discs. The optical discs will be placed
aboard the Encounter 2001 spacecraft scheduled for launch on an
Ariane 5 rocket in the year 2001*. The tiny emissary's flight path will
take it to Jupiter and then beyond the solar system. Before the flight,
we'll include your message as we place a cosmic call to a distant star.
Mankind's first cosmic message, beamed to the stars on Monday, contains two mathematical errors, it has been revealed.
The authors of the message say that the errors could not be corrected before the broadcast.
The cosmic call was only the second intentional interstellar broadcast ever made; in 1974 US radio astronomer Frank Drake sent the first one.
Astronomers Yvan Dutil and Stéphane Dumas of the Defence Research Establishment Valcartier in Canada designed the cosmic message.
They prepared 23 pages of information about the Earth, mathematics, and physics, all coded in symbols that any alien intelligence should be able to decipher.
But at two places in the message, they accidentally used the wrong symbol where they should have used the equals sign.
The errors were picked up earlier this month by a computer game programmer Paul Houx, of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Yvan Dutil has been quoted as saying that he did not sleep for a couple of nights after he was alerted to the problem.
A correction could not be made to the message because the radio telescope due to transmit it, the Evpatoriya observatory in the Ukraine, had no Internet connection; It was therefore impossible to get details of the necessary changes put through before Monday's broadcast.
Paul Houx is worried about the impression the message will leave on alien listeners, saying that we might be judged as a sloppy species by the League of Galactic Civilizations.
The message is part of a commercial project
called Encounter 2001 based in
Houston, US. The company offered the public the
chance to tag their own messages on the end for $15.
Chan Tysor of Encounter 2001 says: "This is a
statement, sending something of yourself away from the
Earth to travel in space forever."
The stars the messages are
aimed at are 51 to 71 light
years away. Radio waves
travel at the speed of light,
meaning that it will be at
least 102 years before any
reply is received. That does
not include any thinking time
for any alien trying to
decipher the message.
But scientists involved in
listening for intelligent signals
from outer space are
sceptical. Specialists in Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence) say sending a message out into space is
almost certainly a fruitless exercise.
Dr Frank Stootman, of Seti Australia, says that it is not
a message to aliens, but to us. He adds that a reply is
very unlikely and certainly not within our lifetime.
The main message is based on science, logic and
Dr Dutil points out that
the only other signal
deliberately sent into space,
beamed out in 1974, was
aimed at stars unlikely to
Because the new signal is
aimed at a handful of stars
like our Sun, in a region of
the sky called the Summer
Triangle, he says that "for
practical purposes, this will
be our first detailed
It was transmitted on
Monday by the Evpatoria
radio telescope in the
The message consists of a
series of pages repeated
three times over a period of
three hours. The signal is
100,000 times stronger than
a TV broadcast.
The message sent in 1974 was transmitted from the
Arecibo radio telescope. It was a brief three-minute
message towards the distant M13 stellar cluster.
It consisted of 1,679 pulses. When arranged into a
matrix, they became an image showing atoms,
molecules, our Solar System and a representation of a
But the new cosmic message is much longer - 400,000
Starting with basic symbols, it uses logic to describe
numbers and geometry. It then goes on to introduce
concepts such as atoms, planets and even DNA.
"If any aliens ever intercept this message, they will have
mastered science. Therefore, much of the first part of the
message, the part that deals with numbers and atoms,
will be familiar to them", says Dr Dutil.
"They can then go on and deduce a few things about
humans such as where we live, how big we are and how
many there are of us."
As well as the encrypted
message, there will be a
series of greetings written by
the general public.
According to Chan Tysor, the
greetings include peoples'
hopes for a more peaceful
future for mankind and other
races in space. One person
says that we have made a
mess of our planet and asks
aliens to put off a visit for
another 100,000 years.
Mr Tysor says the signal is a kind of monument. "It is a
kind of immortality knowing that something you wrote is
beaming its way out of the solar system into the