The other night I watched a very interesting and full of suspense movie. The title is Cosmos, a 2019 sci-fi mystery film directed by Elliot Weaver and Zander Weaver. To be honest, the whole film starts off rather slowly, but as the film progresses, it becomes engaging onward. The story tells of three amateur astronomers, played by Tom England, Joshua Ford, and Arjun Singh Panam, who find themselves in a forest for nocturnal observations and at one point intercept radio signals of apparently impossible origin. Without going too far into the plot of the film, which you can surely watch, without then complaining about the lost time, at a certain point the so-called message of Arecibo is mentioned.
What is the Arecibo message?
The Arecibo message is a radio message transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio telescope, Puerto Rico, on November 16, 1974. It was directed towards the Globular Cluster of Hercules, 25,000 light-years away.
The message is made up of 1679 binary digits, a number specially chosen as the product of two prime numbers (23 and 73). In this way, assuming that anyone who receives it decides to sort it in a quadrilateral, they can only do so by sorting it in 23 rows and 73 columns or 73 rows and 23 columns. The information thus arranged in the first arrangement (23 rows, 73 columns) produces a meaningless drawing, but in the second mode (73 rows, 23 columns) it forms an image in which information can be recognized (Drake’s cryptogram).
The diagram would look like this:
Reading from left to right and top to bottom, it shows the following information:
- the numbers from one (1) to ten (10) in binary format;
- the atomic numbers of the elements hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus;
- the formula of sugars and nucleotide bases of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA);
- the number of nucleotides in the DNA;
- a graphic representation of the DNA double helix;
- a graphic representation of a man and the size (physical height) of an average man;
- the population of the Earth;
- a graphical representation of the solar system;
- a graphic representation of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimensions of the transmitting antenna.
As the message will take 25,000 years to reach its destination (plus an additional 25,000 years for a possible response) the Arecibo message is more a demonstration of mankind’s technological achievements than an actual attempt to hold a conversation with an alien race.
The message was devised by Dr. Frank Drake (at the time a lecturer at Cornell University and creator of the famous Drake equation) with the help of Carl Sagan, among others.
Reading from left to right, the numbers 1 to 10 appear in binary format. Since the column is made up of only three elements, the numbers 8, 9, and 10 are represented on two columns.
The lower elements (present in the fourth line of the message) indicate the beginning of the number.
0 0 0 1 1 1 1 00 00 00 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 00 00 10 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 01 11 01 X X X X X X X X X X <- start number markers
The numbers 1, 6, 7, 8, and 15 (this time represented in columns of four digits plus one as an indicator of the beginning of the number) represent respectively hydrogen (H), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O) and phosphorus (P), which are the building blocks of DNA.
This part of the message describes the molecules that make up the DNA by specifying the number of elements following the order presented in the previous part (the first number indicates the number of hydrogen atoms, the second number indicates the number of carbon atoms, and so on).
Deoxyribose (C5H7O) Adenine (C5H4N5) Thymine (C5H5N2O2) Deoxyribose (C5H7O) Phosphate (PO4) Phosphate (PO4) Deoxyribose (C5H7O) Cytosine (C4H4N3O) Guanine (C5H4N5O) Deoxyribose (C5H7O) Phosphate (PO4) Phosphate (PO4)
In this part of the message, the double helix structure of DNA is visually represented, while the central bar indicates the number of nucleotide base pairs in the human genome (the number represented is about 4.3 billion, although the base pairs in the human genome are nowadays estimated to be 3.2 billion).
The central element represents a man, while the number 14 ( written horizontally on the left, 1110 (binary) = 14 (decimal) ) multiplied by the wavelength of the message (126 mm) gives 1,764 mm, the average height of a human being. The element on the right is the number 4,292,853,750 encoded in 32 bits (FFDFBFF6 in hexadecimal) ( 000011 111111 110111 111011 111111 110110 (binary)
= 4,292,853,750 (decimal) ) and represents the number of the world population in 1974.
In this part the solar system is represented, showing from left to right the Sun, Mercury, Venus, the Earth (shown translated above to indicate from which planet the message was sent), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
In addition to location, the drawing provides an unscaled indication of the size of the planets.
This last part represents the Arecibo radio telescope. The number 2,430 below instead ( represented horizontally in white 100101 111110 (binary) = 2,430 (decimal) ) multiplied by the wavelength of 126 mm represents the diameter of the radio telescope 306.18 m (1,004 ft 6 in).
The part of the image that resembles the letter “M” is there to demonstrate that the curved line is a concave curved mirror, that is is a mirror with a curved reflecting surface.
00000010101010000000000 00101000001010000000100 10001000100010010110010 10101010101010100100100 00000000000000000000000 00000000000011000000000 00000000001101000000000 00000000001101000000000 00000000010101000000000 00000000011111000000000 00000000000000000000000 11000011100011000011000 10000000000000110010000 11010001100011000011010 11111011111011111011111 00000000000000000000000 00010000000000000000010 00000000000000000000000 00001000000000000000001 11111000000000000011111 00000000000000000000000 11000011000011100011000 10000000100000000010000 11010000110001110011010 11111011111011111011111 00000000000000000000000 00010000001100000000010 00000000001100000000000 00001000001100000000001 11111000001100000011111 00000000001100000000000 00100000000100000000100 00010000001100000001000 00001100001100000010000 00000011000100001100000 00000000001100110000000 00000011000100001100000 00001100001100000010000 00010000001000000001000 00100000001100000000100 01000000001100000000100 01000000000100000001000 00100000001000000010000 00010000000000001100000 00001100000000110000000 00100011101011000000000 00100000001000000000000 00100000111110000000000 00100001011101001011011 00000010011100100111111 10111000011100000110111 00000000010100000111011 00100000010100000111111 00100000010100000110000 00100000110110000000000 00000000000000000000000 00111000001000000000000 00111010100010101010101 00111000000000101010100 00000000000000101000000 00000000111110000000000 00000011111111100000000 00001110000000111000000 00011000000000001100000 00110100000000010110000 01100110000000110011000 01000101000001010001000 01000100100010010001000 00000100010100010000000 00000100001000010000000 00000100000000010000000 00000001001010000000000 01111001111101001111000