This is the second half of a two-part article on Earth's legacy and the search for extraterrestrial life. (Read Part 1.)
Somewhere in the cosmos, 36 light years away from us in the direction of the Hercules constellation, a series of electromagnetic waves stretching across 30 million miles of space carries a message from Earth. Each of the 1,679 signals it contains falls in one of two frequencies—an FM signal that translates to a bunch of ones and zeroes.
This message originated in 1974, when it was broadcast from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to commemorate the facility’s renovation. The authors of the message, Carl Sagan and SETI founder Frank Drake, hoped that any aliens who happened to receive it might notice that 1,679 is the product of two prime numbers, 23 and 73, and if you arrange all the zeroes and ones in a grid of 23 columns and 73 rows, you get a series of simple, ASCII-like pictures, including a double helix and a crude image of a person. Whether or not an alien civilization could crack the code, they would at least notice something funny about these FM signals. They’re 10 million times stronger than the background noise from our sun.
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