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Google doodles Cornell message to extraterrestrials

Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 44th anniversary of humankind’s first intentional radio message to extraterrestrials, via the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which was then managed by Cornell.

The message was developed by Frank Drake ’51, Cornell professor of astronomy, and contributed to by graduate students and others, including Carl Sagan. It was sent during the dedication of an upgrade to the Arecibo radio telescope Nov. 16, 1974, and translated into a warbling audio tone that was broadcast over speakers.

The message included representations of the fundamental chemicals of life, the formula for DNA, a crude diagram of our solar system and pictures of a human being and the Arecibo telescope.

“It was a purely symbolic event to show we could do it,” said Donald Campbell, professor emeritus of astronomy. He was a research associate at Arecibo when the message was sent and subsequently served as director of the Arecibo Observatory for seven years.

The likelihood that any alien civilization detected the message is small. It was sent only once, over a period of about three minutes, on a narrow beam directed toward a group of about 300,000 stars called the Great Cluster in Hercules, Messier 13. The globular cluster is 25,000 light-years away in our galaxy, the Milky Way. There are stars closer to our solar system than that, but none of them is in the path of the message.

- Linda B. Glaser and Bill Steele

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Jeff Tyson