The Arecibo Observatory is home to one of the largest, most powerful radio telescopes in the world. Spanning 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter, the huge telescope was used in 1974 for a unique purpose: to transmit a message from humanity to the stars. But while that message has not yet reached its destination — the globular cluster M13, roughly 21,000 light-years away — time has marched forward, and so has society. A message sent in 1974 no longer truly reflects us, which is why researchers at the observatory are developing the New Arecibo Message.
“Our society and our technology have changed a lot since 1974,” Francisco Cordova, director of the Arecibo Observatory, said in a press release. “So, if we were assembling our message today, what would it say? What would it look like?” Those questions will be answered through an online challenge the observatory will run over the course of the next year, with a winner announced during a weeklong celebration of the original message’s 45th anniversary in 2019.
The challenge consists of puzzles that will be periodically released online, designed for small groups of K-16 students around the world. Each puzzle is designed to promote collaborative thinking and prompt students to generate ideas that might become the New Arecibo Message. As the challenge progresses, students will need to solve puzzles by learning more about space science and code-breaking, then register their teams and submit their solutions for the chance to ultimately present their ideas for the New Arecibo Message to the observatory’s team.
“We have quite a few surprises in store for participants and we will be sharing more details as the competition progresses,” said Cordova. “We can’t wait to see what our young people across the globe come up with.”