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Space Message-in-a-Bottle has Alien’s Return-to-Sender Address

First Wednesday Writing Tank taken over by Sagan & ?ETI et al

When Carl Sagan and his fellow pioneer spirits sent a message in November 1974 to star cluster M13, on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, they chose the biggest radio telescope in the world to transmit it: Forty-nine miles outside San Juan, Puerto Rico in the Greater Antilles and sixteen hundred feet up in cleared Caribbean island rainforest, Arecibo’s TFT Radio Telescope stood tall.

Snapped cable sliced through 1000-ft. radio telescope’s 60-year-old dish, August 2020, Arecibo Puerto Rico

Since it was installed in 1963, the gargantuan Arecibo Observatory has played a key role in the study of the universe. Formally known as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, (NAIC), the thousand-foot wide radio telescope dish in its 20-acre hole-in-the-forest is a huge hybrid wood and synthetic saucer-like construction, suspended by cables 500 feet above a 1,000-foot-wide dish, all overlooking a panoramic view of the Puerto Rican Rainforest.

In 1974, the most powerful broadcast ever deliberately beamed into space was made from Puerto Rico. The broadcast formed part of the ceremonies held to mark a major upgrade to the Arecibo Radio Telescope. The transmission consisted of a simple, pictorial message, aimed at our putative cosmic companions in the globular star cluster M13. This Great Cluster in Hercules is roughly 21,000 light-years from us, near the edge of the Milky Way.

SETI, Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, was Sagan’s and Cornell University‘s brainchild. They worked closely with an Arecibo team—which was at the time funded by Cornell*—because the miraculous reflective dish spanning twenty acres of deep cleared forest was capable of collecting/receiving distant radio waves, but also to ‘bounce’ or send the same frequencies out. A major upgrade in 1997 was widely funded. In addition, a message engraved on copper plate accompanied Pioneer 10 spacecraft launch March 1972 and is now 7 billion miles into deep space.
*Facility now run by University of Central Florida.

Forty-five Years Since the Message was Sent
SETI’s November 1974 message was transmitted on a frequency of 2380 MHz. It consisted of 1,679 binary bits representing ones and zeros, sent by shifting the frequency of the signal up and down over a range of about 10 Hz. This method is known to geeks as one used by computer modems to send binary code over a ‘telephone line’. Ones translate into graphics as characters and zeros as spaces, so that the message forms a symbolic picture 23 characters wide by 73 long.

Arecibo message-in-a-bottle 1974

Our broadcast was particularly powerful because it used Arecibo’s megawatt transmitter attached to 1000ft./305m antenna. The latter concentrates transmitter energy by beaming it into a very small patch of sky. Our emission was equivalent to a 20 trillion watt omnidirectional broadcast, and would be detectable by a SETI experiment just about anywhere in the galaxy, assuming a receiving antenna similar in size to Arecibo’s
SETI official statement 1974

?ETI’s Arecibo Message
“Our message consists of 1679 bits, arranged into 73 lines of 23 characters per line (these are both prime numbers, and may help the aliens decode the message). The ‘ones’ and ‘zeroes’ were transmitted by frequency shifting at the rate of 10 bits per second. The total broadcast was less than three minutes. A graphic showing the message is reproduced here. It consists, among other things, of the Arecibo telescope, our solar system, DNA, a stick figure of a human, and some of the biochemicals of earthly life. Although it’s unlikely that this short inquiry will ever prompt a reply, the experiment was useful in getting us to think a bit about the difficulties of communicating across space, time, and a presumably wide culture gap.” ?ETI, 1974

The 20-acre dish structure also supports the Gregory Dome control center and access via ramps. The remote facility still runs all operations with use of generators which are considered more practical to reboot after extreme weather—e.g.hurricane Maria September 2017.

Despite ongoing maintenance, the miracle reflector dish is beginning to show her age. The snapped cable was the last straw.

World’s largest reflector of radio waves, the dish serves as rain collector during hurricanes

Twenty acres of mirror receiver needed skyline cable support. It was one of those supporting cables which snapped. The cable flailed around wildly, damaging the telescope’s Gregorian dome and slashing a 100-foot-long gash through the dish below. The three-inch-wide cable damaged the reflector dish and also the platform used by scientists to access the main dome.

Binary Message from (near-Earth) Space
Early February 2020, radar images from Arecibo pre-crash, revealed a new near-Earth potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA)—2020-BX12—incoming. It turned out to be binary 2020-BX12—two asteroids in one.

Its smaller orbiting moon is tidally locked to the larger asteroid. So from the surface of Asteroid 2020 BX12, you would always see the same face of its moon; as we do with ours.

Images were created by bouncing radio waves off the asteroid as it passed nearby Earth. Studying returning radar echoes—received by the giant dish—Arecibo astronomers could formulate the binary asteroid’s shape, surface features, size and ‘image’. The larger or primary asteroid was discovered on January 27 by the NASA-funded ATLAS survey, on Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Based on its size and minimum separation of BX12’s orbit from Earth’s orbit—188,000 miles or 302,000 km—it was classified as a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA). And Arecibo was bouncing the signal.

Binary Asteroid’s path is steeply inclined to our neighbouring planets, image NASA-NAIC

‘If 2020-BX12 ever does collide with Earth far in the future, it’ll be a classic one-two punch’ AstroBob prediction 2020

Arecibo’s apparent demise is a tragedy under any circumstances. But its unique ability both to send and receive makes it o priority for repair and refunding. Since NASA and Washington have stepped aside, it is up to universities in S. Florida and So.Cal to carry the can.

Binary 2020-BX12 may have missed us this time. Yet those messages ARE coming in, nonetheless. Carl and SETI are indeed receiving.

Writing Encouragement from the Stars
I hope my fellow scribes are as inspired as I am by the brave Big Dish and her island stalwarts.

Surviving sixty years of remote rainforest maintenance, Caribbean hurricane volatility and changing fortunes—not to mention alternative use as a rain-collector—are all laudable achievements for the World’s Largest Radio telescope.

We may also be showing our age, but hopefully we writers will not be besieged by such insuperable odds. And yet, like Arecibo, we will soldier on.

Sinister dexter, sinister dexter.

And, may we request our Space-friendly Muse to guide us, as ever, through 2020’s trials.
©2020 Marian Youngblood

September 3, 2020 Posted by | astronomy, blogging, crop circles, culture, environment, festivals, fiction, history, Muse, novel, space, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment