Airdate: Feb 11, 2009
Scientist: Frank Drake
Kids' Science Challenge: Drake - Language Barrier
Monitoring our radio broadcasts? Even if extraterrestrials learn to speak English, they'll likely be using an ancient version of the language.
“If you had to send a message to a creature that had evolved from a fourteen-legged spider on a distant world, how would you send that message in such a way that it would tell that creature something about us?”
Okay, so how would you communicate with a being from another world? I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Frank Drake is a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He and other scientists at the SETI Institute ask themselves this very question.
“An important thing when a message like that is sent is that it must be very precise and not have two possible decodings. Could you send it in such a way that the creature could decode it with enough detail to understand it?”
It’s unlikely that extraterrestrials are taking English, or Spanish, or Chinese 101. But virtually every science fiction book ever written has them successfully monitoring our broadcasts you know the scenario
“They would simply capture our television, enough of it to learn our language, and then send us a message in our own language. Well, surprisingly, that probably will not work. Languages on Earth have changed so much in 400 years that they are no longer understandable. Well, those civilizations are probably thousands of light years away from us, so that the message they will receive will be thousands of years when they get it, and when they send an answer to us, it’ll be a few thousand years more for it to get here. And so, they will be sending us a message in a language of a form which existed thousands of years ago, and we probably couldn’t understand it.”
If you know of a 3rd to 6th grader who has ideas about how to search for life in outer space, have them check out the Kids’ Science Challenge. It’s a nationwide competition where kids get to see their science ideas turned into realities. That’s at kidsciencechallenge.com.
Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.