Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #20 — Aliens

Once again, dear reader, we bring you another Creative Challenge — to see if you have what it takes to deal with the great issues of our time.

Although it doesn’t seem to be a hot topic around here, this one is about about SETI — the Search for extraterrestrial intelligence. You’re aware of what we wrote about recently in SETI Is Going Big Time — a new, $100 million SETI project is being bankrolled entirely by Yuri Milner, a Russian internet billionaire.

We learned this in the last sentence of a new article at PhysOrg, It’s not all about aliens – listening project may unveil other secrets of the universe. They repeat a lot of old news and then, at the very end, they say:

[P]lans are already in place to figure out how to respond if we are not alone – Milner plans to run a competition with a prize of $1m to find the best digital message to transmit back.

Now there is a challenge worthy of our readership! It appears that Milner hasn’t actually established the competition yet, and Hawking may persuade him that it’s unwise to deliberately reveal our presence to a truly advanced species. Therefore you probably won’t be giving anything away by participating here.

The form of today’s challenge is that you must tell us:

What brief message would you transmit to a newly-discovered alien civilization?

We already know what ol’ Hambo would want to transmit. We described his views about aliens in Ken Ham: Aliens Are Going to Hell! If the scientists running SETI allowed Hambo to send Earth’s message, he would say: Repent, sinners! It’ll be fun to speculate what other creationists might say, but we’re interested in what you would say.

You know the rules: A successful entry should be self-explanatory. You may enter the contest as many times as you wish, but you must avoid profanity, vulgarity, childish anatomical analogies, etc. Also, avoid slanderous statements about individuals. Feel free to comment on the entries submitted by others — with praise, criticism, or whatever — but you must do so tastefully.

There may not be a winner of this contest, but if there is, your Curmudgeon will decide, and whenever we get around to it we’ll announce who the winner is. There is no tangible prize — as always in life’s great challenges, the accomplishment is its own reward. We now throw open the comments section, dear reader. Go for it!

Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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63 responses to “Curmudgeon’s Creative Challenge #20 — Aliens

  1. Our creationists are particularly tasty!

  2. I will sell you the entire planet for a FTL ship.

  3. “BE SURE TO DRINK YOUR OVALTINE™!”

  4. Keep your slimy tentacles off our women!

  5. Just like the Who’s in Horton Hears a Who:
    “We are Here!, We are Here! We are Here!”

  6. The whole truth

    What’s up, Doc?

  7. The whole truth

    The Gettysburg Address.

  8. The whole truth

    If the aliens are hostile, Ken Ham’s address.

  9. Sorry about the inconvenience!

  10. The whole truth says: “The Gettysburg Address.”

    Much too long. Just send the zip code: 17325.

  11. The whole truth

    If the aliens are beautiful women, my address.

  12. Diogenes' Lamp

    I’m sure Sensh is on this NASA discovery:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nasa-announcement-live-second-earth-new-planet-kepler-space-telescope-10410960.html

    So much for Guillermo Gonzalez and his “Privileged Planet” idea!

  13. The whole truth

    If there are creationists on the alien planet, the recipe for Curmudgeonite.

  14. 11..111…11111…..1111111…….11111111111………..1111111111111………….11111111111111111……………..

  15. Hi, do you have a sky fairy?

  16. Stay away!! They are all crazy!!!!

  17. We have this book “How to serve aliens”.
    We would like to try some techniques.

  18. You don’t want to come here. We evolved very recently, and we walk around with billions of bacteria in our intestines. We produce ghastly waste products, liquid, solid, and gas. We’re always shedding hair and skin cells. You’ll probably think we smell bad. Stay away!

  19. The whole truth

    E = mc^2

  20. Lewis Thomason

    Stay away the natives are all insane.

  21. Holding The Line In Florida

    Do you have anything that resembles Rhum or Tequilia on your planet! Send recipe!

  22. The whole truth

    Purple Haze all in my brain, lately things don’t seem the same, actin’ funny but I don’t know why, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky

  23. All Earthlings are liars.

  24. “Move along. Nothing to see here.”

  25. Send them a picture of Donald Trump… they’ll never come visit.

  26. waldteufel

    I would send a Fibonacci sequence in binary from 1 to 377 or so several times. I would follow that up with pi in binary out to 20 decimal places several times, then repeat both as many times as an appropriate length signal would be.

  27. HELLO
    Our Name Is
    ____________

  28. “Ignore this message.”

  29. Mary L. Mand

    Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

    1/2 pound butter or margarine…

  30. We already have multiple great beard men in the sky. Go away.

  31. I would send a Fibonacci sequence in binary from 1 to 377 or so several times. I would follow that up with pi in binary out to 20 decimal places several times….

    Waldteufel, I’m very interested in why you chose Fibonacci and Pi instead of the traditional choice. (e.g., Carl Sagan in Contact ). I’ve always assumed that a series of prime numbers was chosen by Sagan et al because nature is much less likely to generate a series of primes–while, in contrast, Fibonacci series and Pi are less likely to stand out because they appear so commonly in nature. (If I recall, Sagan had the ET-whatever send a prime number series to earth.)

    Also, assuming a base, even Base 2, would require an additional level of “interpretation”. That is, how does one modulate the signal to indicate a “1” versus a “0”? Does one use a single side-band modulation where the “1” is full amplitude and “0” is one-half?

    I’ve never investigated any of this. I just made the aforementioned assumptions when I saw the Contact . But now you’ve got me curious. Perhaps I’m missing the obvious, but I just assumed that Sagan wanted to require as few assumptions as possible on the part of the ET listening post staff (or intergalactic ham radio operator.) Suppose that an “intelligent creature” only got a short “clip” of the repeating message:

    1111111. . . . . . . (7 signal bursts followed by silence of same duration)
    11111111111……….. (11 bursts, followed by 11 silent )
    1111111111111…………. (13 bursts, followed by same interval of silence)

    There may be background phenomena in the recipient’s region of some galaxy which interferes cyclically so that only short clips get through. So the next clip might be another portion of the recurring series:

    11.. (2 bursts aka “signal pulses”, 2 silent intervals)
    111… (3 bursts, 3 silent)
    11111….. (5 burts, 5 silent)
    @@@@@@@@@@@@ @@@@@@@@@@@@@

    ===> So that’s 2, 3, 5 heard before natural “static” overwhelms reception.

    Later on, even the clip gets corrupted by some “static blast” from nature:

    11.. (2 signal bursts, 2 silent intervals)
    111… (3 bursts, 3 silent)
    11@@@@@@@.. (2 bursts, 7 STATICintervals, 1 silent interval )
    1111111. . . . . . . (7 signal bursts followed by silence of same duration)
    111111111@@@@……… (11 bursts, 4 STATIC, followed by 7 silent )
    1111111111111…………. (13 bursts, followed by same interval of silence)

    So, despite two static bursts marring reception, the recipient is able to determine:

    ===> 2,3,[5],7,[11],13
    [For interpretation here, I’ve shown the series in Base 10….but my transmission doesn’t use any base.]

    So even with two of the numbers overridden by static/corruption, the 5 and the 13 can “inferred” from timing the intervals.

    I would think that staying with one and only one series would avoid complications. (That is, if BOTH a Fibonacci series and an encoded Pi are used, it greatly complicates interpretation by the recipient. I would think a binary coding of an irrational number would be “unobvious” for the recipient.)

    Indeed, I would think that integer series would keep things simple. Using Pi, on the other hand, greatly complicates matters because it is an irrational number and a portion of the sequence is very difficult to detect as from Pi.

    Plus, a Fibonacci series would be harder to detect if there was a lot of signal static or corruption so that the isolated “signal clips” never had a three integer sub-series. For example, here’s an intact Fibonacci transmission:

    ===> 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55,
    Yes, it is easy to see the F-series….but what if lots of static intrudes:
    ===> 0, #, #, 3, 5, #, 13, 21, #, 55, #,#,#,#,#,#,#,#,#,….

    Compare that with the same amount of static interrupting a prime number sequence:

    ===> 2, #, #, 7, 11, #, 17, 19, #, 29,#,#,#,#,#,#,#,#,#,….

    In fact, suppose the prime number sequence was corrupted by EVEN MORE static/corruption:

    ===> #,#, #, 7, #, #, 17, 19, #, #, #, #, 41, #, 47, #, #, 61, #,#,#,#,#, 89, 97,

    No matter how much corruption, I would think that the prime number series will be much more easily detected than the Fibonacci.

    HOWEVER, I wonder if gravitational lensing of the “transmission beam” [Yes, I know that is not a good choice of term on my part] would distort the timing of pulses and silences to throw off the count. (????)

    I don’t recall whether the movie or the novel (Contact) use timed silences matching each number in the series. I just introduced that because I thought it would help the recipient realize that both the signal-burst/pulse and the silence which followed represented a prime number in the series.

    Of course, I have no idea what kind of signal works best nor what kind of modulation of the “carrier wave” would be the most successful in getting through to ET. Experts here????? Help?!

  32. Prof T asks:

    I have no idea what kind of signal works best nor what kind of modulation of the “carrier wave” would be the most successful in getting through to ET. Experts here????? Help?!

    By sheer coincidence, I was a student in a masters class taught by the head of the RF team for the New Horizons Pluto probe. I’ve been corresponding with him over the past few days about the comms link between Earth and New Horizons.
    From a terrestrial standpoint, the modulation scheme of binary phase shift keying (BPSK) provides the best capability for long-distance comms at a particular signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). As a matter of fact, New Horizons uses BPSK for its data comms. But the BPSK is not directly modulated onto the carrier. Instead, it’s placed on a 16 kHz subcarrier, which is then amplitude modulated onto the carrier with a full carrier (this is called DSB-FC AM). This is rather wasteful of power, but it allows for the carrier to be recovered more easily. Once the system recovers the carrier, it can then lock onto the subcarriers, recover them, and demod the BPSK subcarrier. But the modulation scheme is not the only important part of the equation.
    How will the data be encoded? Are we going to say that a digital “1” is some level of the signal, and digital “0” is another? Or are we going to say that a change in the signal (the phase, in this case) is a “1”, and a “0” means no change? (This is called differential encoding.) It’s an important question.
    Any digital comm link will also use some form of error detection and correction (EDC). This creates a lot of bits over and above the actual data. These are called “overhead”. For deep space probes, the amount of EDC bits compared to data is a much-lopsided ratio. For example, New Horizons sends 5 EDC bits for every 1 data bit. This creates the first problem for any communication. Do we want the alien race to be able to actually have usable bits? We’d most likely have to put some EDC on the stream. The alien race would not only have to know that this was an artificial signal, but be able to figure out the EDC scheme we’ve put on it.
    THEN they would have to figure out how to demodulate the BPSK signal and decode the data.
    This is a very simplistic overview, but it gives you an idea of how complicated comms can get in very short order.

  33. An intelligent species sending out long-range messages to others of their species, would probably be cautious about attracting attention from potentially aggressive listeners. They would likely encode their signals to appear like cosmic noise, and their receivers would automatically filter that out. It’s what we should be doing with all of our broadcasting, with filters built into all TV and radio sets.

  34. SC said:

    They would likely encode their signals to appear like cosmic noise

    Probably no need. They could keep it within their bounds by simply power-limiting their transmissions. Unless they have some ultra-superior knowledge of electromagnetism, kTB applies to them as well as us.

  35. longshadow

    Scintillation by the interstellar medium over cosmic distance scales will likely wipe out any modulation content; for that reason, SETI is designed to detect artificiality, not information.

    At best, we might detect a narrow band carrier wave from a high powered transmitter on an alien world. (Think analog TV stations or military radar.)

    Ergo, the million dollar prize to pick a message to send TO the aliens is a PR exercise only; reciprocity assures that our message is just as unlikely to penetrate the ISM as theirs is.

    Or so I’m told by the aliens I know….

  36. FYI, if you’re interested in the probes the Deep Space Network is communicating with, I highly recommend checking out the DSN Now website.

  37. Gary: “They could keep it within their bounds by simply power-limiting their transmissions.”

    It may be too late — wasn’t WLW in Cincinnati broadcasting @ 500,000 watts in the 1920s? And the early-warning radar we have been using watching for launched ICBMs uses at least that much power, and it’s focused to boot.

  38. Entry for the Challenge: “Take us to your leader.”

  39. Skip Vegas unless you want to return home in a bus.

  40. “By the time you get this message, we’ll be extinct.”

  41. Pope RSG said:

    It may be too late — wasn’t WLW in Cincinnati broadcasting @ 500,000 watts in the 1920s?

    The thing you’re most interested in is power density or electrical field at the output. I cannot determine if WLW’s claim of “500 kW” is power into the antennas (meaning power coming out of the amplifier) or ERP (effective radiated power), which determines the power density. The DSN’s 70 meter dishes boast ~75% efficiency with 20 kW amplifier inputs. At the X-band transmissions they use, this means they achieve power densities equivalent to a transmitter outputting billions of watts. And they’re doing that while pointing up at the stars.
    As you said, we’re probably too late.

  42. Oh, and the dark side of me votes for realthog‘s entry.

  43. We’d most likely have to put some EDC on the stream. The alien race would not only have to know that this was an artificial signal, but be able to figure out the EDC scheme we’ve put on it.

    Isn’t that yet another advantage of a repeated prime number stream? Surely that would make figuring out the EDC scheme trivially simple, wouldn’t it? Surely an advanced civilization would have developed the same EDC schemes.

    Speaking of EDC schemes, when the Internet became important for downloading software and updates, I was amazed that there was no standard checksum scheme or anything for detecting whether the downloaded file was corrupted. One would download some huge file and then only learn that it was corrupted when it bombed on execution.

  44. By the way, on my post prime number scheme, I was thinking of catering to a civilization that was even just past Marconi…and that such a trivial scheme could be within their grasp.

  45. The whole truth

    Take Ken Ham, ….please.

  46. The whole truth

    Knock knock…

  47. The whole truth

    Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, two Doberman Pinschers, and The Sensuous Curmudgeon walk into a bar on Kepler-452b…

  48. The whole truth says: “Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, two Doberman Pinschers, and The Sensuous Curmudgeon walk into a bar on Kepler-452b…”

    I’ve heard it before.

  49. The whole truth

    “I’ve heard it before.”

    That made me laugh.🙂

  50. Tom Rowland

    Late to the party, but…
    @SC:

    An intelligent species sending out long-range messages to others of their species, would probably be cautious about attracting attention from potentially aggressive listeners. They would likely encode their signals to appear like cosmic noise, and their receivers would automatically filter that out. It’s what we should be doing with all of our broadcasting, with filters built into all TV and radio sets.

    Frederick Pohl (one of my favorite “hard” sci-fi authors) made this a premise of his “Gateway” or “Heechee” series of novels.

  51. The whole truth

    Oh, and SC, you’ve heard it before but the aliens likely haven’t.🙂

  52. The whole truth, I assume it’s the one where Miss Scarlett backs Hovind and Comfort into a corner, Aaaargh! raises a leg and takes a whiz on them, the patrons of the bar all cheer, and I’m voted free drinks for life.

  53. Tom Rowland says:

    Frederick Pohl (one of my favorite “hard” sci-fi authors) made this a premise of his “Gateway” or “Heechee” series of novels.

    It’s been years since I read Pohl, but that may be where I got the idea.

  54. About the “encoding” of signals so that they are indistinguishable from noise. Wouldn’t that be the most efficient way of sending information?

  55. Radioastronomer

    So, why have we not seen anyone yet?

    First: There are two real sources of noise that limit the radio astronomer’s ability to search for very weak signals. The Galactic noise halo interferes with us below 1Ghz and noise due to earth’s atmosphere interferes with us above about 10Ghz. This pretty much keeps all SETI searches (at least radio ones) between 1 and 10Ghz. Between the two, the noise is around the 2.7K Cosmic Microwave Background from 1.4 to 7Ghz. This is why most of the SETI searches are around the frequencies that the OH (hydroxyl) and H (hydrogen) molecules masers emit. This is the so-called water hole. OH H (tell me scientists don’t have a sense of humor).

    Second: Where do we look? There are literally millions of stars within reach of our radio telescopes. This is quite an undertaking. So we scan large portions of the sky in hopes of seeing that very faint signal that tells us we are not the only species pushing our way up the tool building ladder.

    What is SETI looking for?

    Are we looking for some beamed knowledge like in the movie Contact? In a word – no. Also SETI searches are not looking for intelligence riding on a signal itself. The scintillation of the interstellar medium will quickly make that unintelligible. What most current SETI searches are looking for, is the extremely narrowband signal (carrier) that the information rides on. Indeed as we evolve into more “spread spectrum” type signals, the carrier(s) will be harder to detect. However, I think that will be a temporary phenomenon. As we spread out into the solar system, we again will require high power carriers to convey information from point to point. So there may be a naturally “quiet” period in many advanced races prior to then spreading through out their solar system.

    Given an effective radiated power of the transmitter (in watts), the effective area of the receiving antenna (in square meters), the excess receiver noise temperature of the receiver used (in K), the averaging time of the receiver (in seconds), and the accepted band-width of the signal (in Hz), the range at which we can detect a signal transmitted by an intelligent civilization, is:

    R=8×10^-6(PeA/T)^1/2(t/B)^1/4 light years.

    Where the constant is calculated from 1/[9.4608×10 ^15(4”pi”k)^1/2]. Here the constant is the number of meters per one light year, and k is the boltzmann constant.

    Unfortunately this means I Love Lucy is not going to the stars.

  56. Rades! You’ve been gone too long. I thought this thread might get your attention.

  57. i wouldn’t send a message, but I would post a warning sign: “Warning, some inhabitants of this planet are convinced humans beings are the only intelligent life in the Universe. Be warned that contradicting their belief may be hazardous for your health. (In other words, they are unwilling to die for their beliefs, but they are more than willing to kill you for their delusions)

  58. RA asked me to add a comment that the reason they look for narrow band signals is two-fold: 1) there is no known source of natural narrow band signals (and thus, the detection of such signals suggests artificiality,) and 2) the narrower the bandwidth, the better the signal-to-noise ratio gets, and at interstellar distances, you have to do everything you can to minimize noise to have chance of getting a signal.

    He is familiar with SETI efforts that utilize a 0.8Hz channelization, which is searched at a rate of billions of channels per second.

  59. Radioastronomer brings up an interesting point:
    As we spread out into the solar system, we again will require high power carriers to convey information from point to point. So there may be a naturally “quiet” period in many advanced races prior to then spreading through out their solar system.

    Of course, this assumes that another intelligent species finds itself in a “solar” system with more than one habitable planet. For that matter, it’s very much an open question if our solar system has more than one habitable planet. For instance, any colony that would now be started on Mars would be totally dependent on supplies from Earth. It would not be self-sustaining.

    As I see it, there are two ways a Mars colony could be self-sustaining. The way usually mentioned is to terraform Mars. It might work; we don’t know. But we do know it would take a VERY long time.

    Another, and quicker, way would be to “Mars-form” Earth life — that is, genetically engineer existing species of life (including humans) to be adapted to conditions on Mars. In other words, artificial evolution.

    I seriously doubt if anyone reading this today will see it in their lifetime, but it’s a thought…

  60. It’s very well possible that there are highly intelligent beings out there who have no inclination whatsoever to leave their planet, use radio waves of any kind or search for other life in the universe. Either because they’re uninterested, or because they’re physically bound to their planet in some way, or because radio would be useless on their planet, you name it.

  61. @Draken
    I am thinking of a life form in a world which did not let them know about there being a big universe outside. If they had vision which was limited – very short nearsighted or impenetrable cloud cover. The idea that there would be something worth investigating might never occur to them.

    Why do we always assume that life is associated with a planet? Why would an advanced life form not migrate out from a planet?

  62. Besides an intelligent life form on a planet with impenetrable cloud cover, another example of a “silent intelligence” could be something like earth’s cetaceans — highly intelligent but no means of building a technology. For that matter, no need to develop a technology — they have everything they need readily at hand mouth. Besides, if they lived in an ocean, they wouldn’t be messing around with electricity; thus, no radio.

  63. The whole truth

    SC said:

    “I assume it’s the one where Miss Scarlett backs Hovind and Comfort into a corner, Aaaargh! raises a leg and takes a whiz on them, the patrons of the bar all cheer, and I’m voted free drinks for life.”

    Yep, that’s the one.