The Arecibo Reply: How We Know Aliens Aren’t Calling Us Through Crop Circles Nick Garratt The Skeptic

In 1974, a team of scientists led by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan composed a message to be transmitted to the edge of our galaxy. Specifically, to the globular cluster Messier 13 – a group of stars roughly 25,000 light years from Earth. This was humanity’s first attempt to phone ET.

The original Arecibo message
(Source: Arne Nordmann norro, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The message was written in binary code, which, when displayed as a graphic in a 23×73 rectangle (chosen for being prime numbers), provide several pieces of information about human beings and our planet. These include the atomic numbers for the elements that combine to make up DNA (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorus), a stick figure of a human being, a representation of our solar system and our position in it, and a representation of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico that was used to transmit the message.

This latter inclusion was a testament to the technological prowess of humanity – to be able to send a call out into space, further than any transmission had been sent before, supposedly with the intention of reaching out to intelligent alien life.

Then, in 2001, in the sleepy Hampshire countryside, we got our reply. Not via the Chilbolton Radio Telescope, but in a field a short distance away. The reply came in the form of a crop circle (technically, a crop rectangle) seeming to be a copy of the Arecibo Message but with some key differences. The atomic code for carbon had been replaced with silicon, the stick figure had changed shape to indicate a large head and smaller body, and the image of Arecibo had been replaced with a complex image seeming to indicate some kind of space telescope with solar panels – or potentially a mimic of other complex crop circles that have been drawn in the past.

Could this be ET calling us back? No. No it couldn’t. And there are some key reasons for this. Firstly, and probably most importantly, the initial Arecibo message hasn’t reached anywhere yet. While the radio burst signal can theoretically travel all the way to the M13 cluster (seen in the constellation of Hercules in the Northern Hemisphere) it is currently thought to be only 1/1000th of the way there. It will be another 250 centuries until the message gets there – and by that time those stars will have moved in space. There will be nobody in to take our call, and likely no voicemail for us to leave our message after the beep.

But you might be thinking, what if maybe some other, much closer alien race picked up the signal? Well, that’s not likely either. The width of the beam carrying this message was less than 1/15th the diameter of the Moon. While this might sound wide to you or me, cosmically speaking, it’s a pinpoint. The message was transmitted using radio bursts and lasts only three minutes. Add to this that there is nothing in the radio bursts that makes it clear that the signal bursts need to be formatted into a visual, and within a specific layout of 23 columns containing 73 rows of data. The chances of a race being in the right place at the right time to pick up this transmission and then knowing to convert this information into a visual graphic are, quite frankly, astronomical.

The Arecibo reply (used here under Fair Dealing)

Now let’s look at the image of the “reply” itself.

For ET to have picked up the original message, they must have the ability to receive radio signals. So it would stand to reason that they can also send radio signals, right? If that were the case, then why not radio us a response? This would be much more efficient for speed and clarity of their message, rather than travelling to Earth, waiting in hiding for the right time of year for the crops to grow, and then bending them. Even without speech, sending back the same radio bursts we used to send our message would be much more convincing than carrying out a Neil Buchanan-esque “big art” in a field next to a radio telescope, itself the home of SETI’s (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Hampshire chapter.

Then we have the picture, made to resemble what some refer to as a “Grey” alien – a large head with big eyes and a pointed chin atop a smaller body. This is the stereotypical alien, as seen everywhere in popular culture from psychedelic posters and various smoking paraphernalia to Hollywood movies such as Mars Attacks! and Paul. This image goes back to some of the earliest alien encounter stories and seems to have come from a sketch produced by Barney Hill when undergoing hypnosis to “recover lost memories” of his “alien abduction” from the 1960’s.

Then there is the DNA information. The reply makes a change from carbon to silicon. While long-held in science fiction tales as an alternative to carbon-based life forms, the reality is that silicon would not be well-suited to support life, especially on a water and oxygen-rich planet such as ours. And, while an extra strand was added to the helix pictograph in the “reply”, no additional information or new core elements have been added to the data sent.

Nobody has ever come forward to claim ownership for producing the image in the wheat and, honestly, that is probably the biggest piece of evidence in favour of this being a “genuine” ET message – it truly is a work of art and would take some dedication to pull off. If I had done it, I would absolutely be showing it to everyone that would look.

That said, while we can’t say for certain who produced this reply to the Arecibo message, we can be certain that the call came from inside our terrestrial house.

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When astronomers sent out the Arecibo message to communicate with aliens, they weren’t expecting a reply in the form of a crop circle – and, indeed, a hoax
The post The Arecibo Reply: How We Know Aliens Aren’t Calling Us Through Crop Circles appeared first on The Skeptic.