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Decoding the Message from "A Sign in Space": A Year-Long Journey

Decoding the Message from "A Sign in Space": A Year-Long Journey

A Sign in Space


More than a year after launching the multidisciplinary art project "A Sign in Space," conceived by SETI Artist in Residence Daniela De Paulis, a father-daughter team has successfully decoded the message. On June 7, 2024, De Paulis received the decoded message from the duo, who requested to remain anonymous and will be referred to as "John" and "Sarah."

John and Sarah's decoded message was a simple image with five amino acids displayed in a universal organic molecular diagram notation, accompanied by a few single pixel points appearing between the clusters and molecular diagrams. John explained their decoding process:

"My decoded message is a simple image with five amino acids displayed in a universal (hopefully) organic molecular diagram notation and a few single pixel points that appear between the clusters and molecular diagrams. I used a Margolus reversible 2x2 block cellular automata (BCA) with the simplest reversible rule, called 'single point (CCW) rotation,' acting only on 2x2 cells that contain only a single point or pixel per the header instructions, conserving pixel or point count, 625 pixels in and 625 out. The starmap image appears to have the molecular forms encoded in a 3D local degree of freedom set of basis vectors (also shown in the header). The CA effectively transforms and projects this 3D info onto a 2D plane. I can run my Unity game engine based simulator forwards (CCW rotation) and backwards (CW rotation) in time and transform the starmap representation to the amino acid diagrams in 6625 generations and reverse the rotation process to transform the amino acid diagrams back to the starmap image in 6625 generations. I say starmap, but I really read from the binary message file each run. The decoded image is only visible for one frame lasting about 1/10th of a second, but I can pause and manually step as well as reverse my CA engine...Here is a screen capture of my decoded image." -- John

In May 2023, De Paulis led a global team to send an encoded message from the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) back to Earth, simulating a signal that an advanced extraterrestrial civilization might send. The message was "detected" by four radio astronomy observatories on Earth: the SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array (ATA), The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station observatory managed by INAF (the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics). The contents of the encoded message remained unknown even to most of the collaborating partners – until now.

This initiative has achieved incredible success, gaining global recognition, captivating audiences worldwide, securing international press coverage, and significantly enhancing the visibility of SETI science. The organizers invited the public to decode and interpret the message through the A Sign in Space Discord server community. Thousands of people joined the Discord conversations and submitted hundreds of possible solutions.

"A Sign in Space" blends theater and science, aiming to unravel the complex process of decoding an extraterrestrial message and interpreting its meaning. Daniela De Paulis has fostered international cooperation by involving the global SETI community, professionals from diverse fields, and the general public, facilitating a meaningful dialogue on SETI, space research, and their implications across various cultures and domains.

Now that John and Sarah have successfully decoded the message, we invite the community to contribute on our Discord. Here are some ways to engage:

  • Utilize the description and solution provided above to conduct your own analysis and post the results in the #solution channel. Be sure to describe the method you used; replication is fundamental in scientific exploration.
  • We have the message, but what does it signify? Share your interpretations in the #interpretation channel.

The exploration continues.

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