ET calling from Mars? Just a test, but you can help decode the signal from robotic orbiter | Tech News

ET calling from Mars? Just a test, but you can help decode the signal from robotic orbiter

Earth has received a mysterious signal! But wait, the message is not of extraterrestrial origin. It was transmitted by humans as part of a simulation to mimic an actual communication from aliens.

| Updated on: May 25 2023, 18:24 IST
Top NASA tech that solved Mars myths and mysteries like never before
The Green Bank Telescope
1/10 Humans have been studying Mars for hundred of years. In 1609, Galileo was the first person to peer through a telescope and get a more intimate image of what many could only have dreamed of. (Pixabay)
The Green Bank Telescope
2/10 An up close and personal view of the red planet emerged as time progressed and so did the capabilities of telescopes. In fact, from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, many astronomers believed that Mars was home to majestic seas and lush areas of vegetation. The Dark markings on Mars surface were once believed to be caused by vegetation growing and dying. (Pixabay)
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3/10 Some even believed that intelligent life existed on Mars just because of what they saw through their simple telescopes. But that is exactly was science is about-you make educated guesses based on what you know, then change your ideas based on what you learn. (NASA)
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4/10 Now, thanks to new sophisticated equipment and robotic visits to Mars, it turns out they were caused by Martian wind. It was not until the 1960s, when NASA's Mariner missions flew by and snapped pictures of Mars that many of the myths about the red planet were dispelled. (NASA)
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5/10 That does not make Mars any less interesting. The possibility that life actually existed once on Mars is still a distinct possibility. Or it may even be existing on Mars today! No, not in the form of little green men, but on a microbial level. (NASA)
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6/10 Now, taking pictures is great and all. But nothing is better than getting to know the real thing. So, to get a better feel of Mars, Scientists and engineers built some nifty technologies, from spacecrafts to reach Mars and rovers (vehicles) to actually trundle and explore the planet. (NASA/JPL)
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7/10 Among the earliest tech deployed for Mars was Phoenix. It was launched on August 4, 2007 and so began its 9-month long, 681 Million km journey to the legendary red planet. Now, landing on a planet is not as easy as simply dropping a spacecraft onto it. There is actually a lot of steps to the process. (NASA)
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8/10 On May 25, 2008, Phoenix entered Mars atmosphere. It used its heat shield to slow down the high speed entry of 5600 meters per second or around 12500 miles per hour. It released a supersonic PARACHUTE, then detached from its parachute and used its rocket engines to land safely on the planet's surface. Phoenix' landing spot was further north and closer to the ice covered poles than any spacecraft has ever been before. (NASA)
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9/10 Phoenix had two primary goals: One was to study the history of water in the Martian arctic and the other was to search for evidence of a habitual zone and assess the biological potential of the ice soil boundary. And to do that the spacecraft was packed full of gizmos and gadgets to perform all sets of experiments and tests. One of these gizmos was a robotic arm with a shovel attached. It was used to dig up samples of the martian soil for experiments! (NASA)
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10/10 Another top tech on the Mars surface was the Surface Stereo Imager, which is really just a fancy name for the camera. Three surface stereo imagers were Phoenix' eye. Engineers built the device with two optical lenses that would allow for a three dimensional view, just like our eyes. And the SSI sent back some amazing images of the martian landscape. (Source: NASA/Justin Tully) (NASA)
The Green Bank Telescope
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The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia is the world's largest completely steerable radio telescope. (Green Bank Observatory)

After extensive efforts to detect extraterrestrial intelligence, a message from outer space was picked up by three prominent Earth-based radio astronomy observatories today. The signal originated in the vicinity of Mars, and its contents remain hidden at present. However, contrary to initial excitement, the message is not of extraterrestrial origin. It was deliberately transmitted as part of a simulation to mimic an actual communication from aliens. This exercise serves as a dress rehearsal, enabling us to gauge our preparedness and response if we were to encounter a genuine extraterrestrial message. This was organised by the astronomers at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

SETI is devoted to searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and it aims to initiate a global decryption and decoding game, allowing anyone to participate in deciphering the signal's meaning. A dedicated website called "A Sign in Space" will serve as a platform for discussions, guesses, and weekly workshops related to the message.

Despite radio astronomers diligently listening for signs of alien signals over the past 50 years, no intentional or unintentional transmissions from other civilizations have been detected. The vastness of the Milky Way Galaxy, with approximately 200 billion stars is yet to be explored and it provides an expansive search area for potential life.

The encoded message that will be used in this simulation was meticulously designed by a team led by Daniela de Paulis, an artist in residence at the SETI Institute and the Green Bank Observatory. Only upon deciphering the message will its contents be revealed to the eager participants.

However, history has shown that decoding such signals is a formidable challenge. In 1974, Frank Drake, widely regarded as the father of SETI, crafted a message transmitted from the Arecibo radio antenna. Although the message contained images and patterns formed by zeros and ones, it remained incompletely deciphered, even by esteemed individuals like Carl Sagan.

The simulation event commences with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a robotic explorer positioned above Mars by the European Space Agency. After the spacecraft transmits the encoded message, the signal will reach three telescopes—the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array in Northern California, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station near Bologna, Italy. Upon processing the signal, each observatory will share its findings on the experiment's website, inviting all Earthlings to join in the analysis.

According to de Paulis, receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a transformative experience for humanity.

In the days to come, additional events centred around investigating unexplained aerial phenomena will take place. Following the Pentagon's disclosure of investigating unidentified flying objects, NASA has established a committee to apply scientific standards to the study of these phenomena, referred to as unidentified anomalous phenomena or U.A.P.s. On May 31, NASA plans to host a public meeting to discuss the progress made so far.

While the excitement of a potential alien encounter remains unrealized, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and exploration of unidentified phenomena continue to captivate human curiosity.

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First Published Date: 25 May, 18:24 IST