Will it Play in Alpha Centauri?
How would you put together a message that an alien would understand? II’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
Vakoch: To communicate with another civilization, we have to find a language that we’ll have in common.
Doug Vakoch is president of METI International, which stands for Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.
Vakoch: If another civilization can build a radio receiver, we know they’ve got to know something fundamental. Using those basic ideas of arithmetic, we send signals that talk about the nature of the radio waves and actually point to those radio waves themselves.
And the beauty of being able to describe waves in terms of their frequency, how long they last, and what simple numbers relate different tones, is we can now describe the foundations of something as utterly human as music.
It’s too complicated to send a musical signal itself over great distances, but basic concepts like time and changes in frequencies could be communicated with radio signals .
Vakoch: We can actually describe a second by sending a pulse that lasts for one second.
The concept of an octave where one tone is twice the frequency of another tone – is challenging because doubling the frequency of a tone could take it out of the range of the signal being communicated. So the idea will be conveyed by sending pairs of tones close enough to each other in frequency to be received together.
Vakoch: So we send a pair of tones and they differ by five hertz. And then we send another pair of tones and it differ 10 hertz. So that lets us describe the relationship between the first pair and the second pair by saying that the second pair has twice as high a frequency as the first.
I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.