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Scientists want you to help decode an ‘alien’ transmission from Mars this week

Published May 24th, 2023 7:23PM EDT
South polar cap on Mars

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What if an alien transmission was to reach Earth? Would we be able to decode it and somehow communicate with other species? Many believe we could find ways to communicate with symbols or other icons. Now, a group of scientists will test our ability to decode such communications when an “alien” transmission from Mars reaches Earth later this week.

The transmission, of course, isn’t actually alien. Instead, it’s part of a simulation put together by a group of scientists who will send the signal using the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The TGO will transmit an encoded message to Earth, which will be picked up by a trio of ground-based radio observatories 16 minutes later.

The “alien” transmission from Mars was created by artist Daniela de Paulis and her colleagues and will be made available to the public shortly after it is received. The goal here is to see if we’re able to make sense of the message, a kind of de facto test to see just how well we might be able to handle a real alien transmission, should one ever come in.

The SETI Institute put the whole thing together. It’s being called A Sign in Space and will simulate First Contact, a point referenced in several pieces of science fiction and one that many have been itching to see happen in reality, which centers around humanity’s first encounter with alien life. Over 30 artists, scientists, and SETI researchers have collaborated to help pull this event off.

The European Space Agency and space logistics company D-Orbit will also be involved, helping to transmit the alien transmission from Mars to Earth.

“Throughout history, humanity has searched for meaning in powerful and transformative phenomena,” de Paulis shared in a statement. “Receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a profoundly transformational experience for all humankind.” While the event would only act as a rehearsal for such an event, it will be intriguing to see the results and how it all plays out.

Once the signal is received, the SETI team will share it on a special Discord, which participants can join if they want to take part in the experiment.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.