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44 years ago, scientists sent humanity’s first message into space: This is what it said

In 1974 researchers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico sent humanity’s first celestial radio message with hopes that extraterrestrial intelligence might discover and decode it. 

The Arecibo Message was humankind’s first attempt at communicating with intelligent life outside earth. To put it simply: we threw out a message into the cosmos and hoped aliens would reply back.

The message lasted less than three minutes and comprised exactly 1,679 binary digits which could be arranged in a grid 73 rows by 23 columns.

When arranged in the grid, the message formed a pictograph that explained some fundamental facts about mathematics, human DNA, our planet’s location in the solar system and a picture of a human figure.

Colour arecibo message vertical

A colour version of the original black-and-white Arecibo Message. (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

The notable transmission was launched into a cluster of stars 25,000 light-years from Earth. Today (November 16), Google celebrated the anniversary of such a massive achievement with an awesome doodle.

Rather than having any great hope of ET coming across it, the transmission was designed to show the capabilities of Arecibo’s new radio telescope – the world’s most powerful at the time.

Donald Campbell, a Cornell University professor of astronomy who was a research associate at the Arecibo Observatory at the time, told Google: “It was strictly a symbolic event, to show we could do it.”

While the researchers involved have since downplayed the significance of the event, the moment the transmission was sent back in 1974 moved some in the lab to tears.

Whether scientists expected the message to find a recipient or not, the project was symbolic of humankind’s aspiration, immense progress and hope of finding complex life in our solar system.

So, did they answer? Or did the aliens do the ol’ “new phone who dis?”. Well, we don’t know yet. Seeing that the Arecibo Message will take around 25,000 years to reach its destination, we will have to wait a bit longer for an answer.

Since it was transmitted 44 years ago, the message has only travelled 416 trillion kilometres. That means it has about 236,518,268,576,372,032 kilometres to go until it reaches its final destination, a group of 300,000 stars in the Hercules constellation.

While we won’t be around when the message hits its last stop, it’ll be sure worth the wait if we get a response.

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