Hi, universe? It's Earth -- Arecibo plans to beam new intergalactic message

Observatory hosting global student competition to design new message

UCF announced on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 an agreement with the National Science Foundation to take over managing the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
UCF announced on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 an agreement with the National Science Foundation to take over managing the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

ARECIBO, Puerto Rico – If Earth had a Facebook page, it wouldn't have updated its status in 45 years. A lot has happened since then -- new jobs, millions of births, international breakups -- and it's time for an update.

Forty-four years ago Friday, Arecibo Observatory beamed up a status for Earth into the universe in the form of a radio message telling our galactic neighbors a little about humankind.

In 1974, a team from Cornell University collaborated with famous astronomer Carl Sagan to find the perfect “hello” to the universe that best represented all people. The result was a series of 1,679 binary digits which represented elements of math, human DNA and Earth’s location in the solar system. Arecibo then beamed the radio message at a cluster of stars in the constellation Hercules, 25,000 light years, or about 147,000 trillion miles, from Earth. In the 44 years since, it has traveled only 259 trillion miles.

After almost half a century officials at the observatory in Puerto Rico say it’s time for an updated intergalactic status update.

Arecibo officials in Puerto Rico announced on Friday, the 44th anniversary of the message, that the observatory plans to again beam a powerful radio message into deep space, but this time it’s putting the content in the hands of Earthlings who actually have social media: students.

“Our society and our technology have changed a lot since 1974,” Arecibo Observatory Director Francisco Cordova said. “So, if we were assembling our message today, what would it say? What would it look like? What one would need to learn to be able to design the right updated message from the Earthlings? Those are the questions we are posing to young people around the world through the New Arecibo Message – the global challenge.”

On Friday, Arecibo unveiled the rules to the international competition-- along with a Google doodle marking its birthday—to create a new message.

The National Science Foundation-funded establishment, managed by the University of Central Florida, is the largest ground observatory in the world. A diverse group of students from around the world are invited to compete, but it won’t be easy.

Teams of 10 students from kindergarten through college will have to solve puzzle-like challenges to enter. The first task goes up Friday afternoon on Arecibo’s website.

Cordova says the competition organizers have a few surprises for participants.

After the teams decode clues, solve puzzles and learn about space sciences, part one of the challenge will be released on Dec. 16. Teams will be selected in March and have nine months to finalize their designs.

On Nov. 16, 2019, the 45th anniversary of the first radio transmission, Arecibo will announce the winning entry.

 “We can’t wait to see what our young people across the globe come up with," Cordova said.

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