[Version 1.1; December 2003]
humanity actively searches for messages from other civilizations
among the stars, both physical and social scientists have begun
to give some thought to the form that their message and our answer
might take. In other words, how will they "speak" our language,
and how will be reply in theirs? Below are some print and web resources
to help you explore what people have been thinking in this area,
together with a few general references on the scientific search
for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI).
Articles about Messages We Might Find or Send
D. "The View from a Distant Star: Challenges of Interstellar Message
Making" in Mercury (the magazine of the Astronomical Society
of the Pacific), Mar/Apr. 1999, p. 26. (A nice review article; on
the web at: http://www.astrosociety.org/pubs/mercury/9902/vakoch.html)
Message Construction Web Pages at the SETI Institute (good source
to start with; includes articles, interviews, and some history):
to Web Sites about Interstellar Communications (Kept by NASA's
Mike Matessa, this comprehensive guide to web sites includes messages
already sent, practice messages, and future message ideas): http://www.matessa.org/~mike/inter-comm.html
Active SETI Site (Two Canadian scientists suggest some messages
and encourage readers to decipher them): http://www3.sympatico.ca/stephane_dumas/CETI/
D. "Altruism: A Scientific Perspective" (from the Sep/Oct. 2001
issue of Science & Spirit): http://www.science-spirit.org/articles/printerfriendly.cfm?article_id=237
(Considers how we might let aliens know that we are not just selfish,
but can practice altruism.)
Books about Messages We Might Find or Send
Gregory Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across the Millennia.
1999, HarperCollins. One section of this fascinating book on
long-term communication is the story of how an innovative message
was planned for, but then not sent with, the Cassini spacecraft
exploring the Saturn system.
Brian Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with
Alien Civilizations. 2001, O'Reilly. A telecommunications engineer
looks at possible messages we might exchange with aliens in some
detail. (This is a book for those who like math and puzzles.)
Edward, ed. Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence.
1985, Cambridge University Press. This collection of articles
on the implications and likelihood of contact includes three articles
on messages between civilizations (including one by Marvin Minsky.)
Douglas, ed. Between Worlds: The Art and Science of Interstellar
Message Composition. 2004, MIT Press. A forthcoming collection
of papers from a 2002 conference held in Paris about messages. (Technical)
You can read some of the abstracts at: http://publish.seti.org/art_science/index.php
Books and Articles about Earlier Messages
S. The Biological Universe: The 20th Century Extra-terrestrial
Life Debate. 1996, Cambridge U. Press. A history of recent thought
about SETI with sections on earlier messages and the first thoughts
scientists had about using pictures for messages.
C., et al. Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record.
1978, Random House. All about the contents and planning for
the video and audio record ("the sights and sounds of Earth") carried
aboard the two Voyager spacecraft, which have now left the solar
from the Moon, to Mars, to the Stars" (a nice introductory article
on the history of SETI messages by Douglas Vakoch of the SETI Institute):
D.: The Martian Morse Code Challenge (introduces early ideas about
using simple codes to communicate): http://www.space.com/searchforlife/vakoch_history_mars_010427.html
D. Messages from ET (Part 1) — about an earlier message devised
in the 1960's by astronomer Frank Drake; part 1 shows the message
and asks if you can figure it out: http://www.space.com/searchforlife/vakoch_messages_010706.html
D. Messages from ET (Part 2) — part 2 explains Drake's sample message:
Arecibo Message: http://www.fourmilab.ch/goldberg/setimsg.html
(In 1974, humanity sent its first coded message into space, using
the giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico. At this site,
you can view the message in various forms, and see if you can figure
it out, before jumping to another page with the answer.)
Voyager (audio-video) Record: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec.html
(The two Voyager spacecraft, now on their way to the stars,
carry a record that has the "sights and sounds" of Earth on it.)
A Few Good Books about SETI in General
Frank & Sobel, Dava Is Anyone Out There: The Scientific Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. 1992, Delcorte Press. Well-written
autobiography of Frank Drake, the pioneer scientist in this field,
with good background information on the search.
Donald & Owen, Tobias The Search for Life in the Universe,
3rd ed. 2001, University Science Books. The definitive college textbook
on this topic. (Chapter 20 is about messages.)
Albert After Contact: The Human Response to Extra-terrestrial
Life. 1997, Plenum. A psychologist analyzes what finding life
out there might mean for our thinking on Earth.
Michael Other Worlds: The Search for Life in the Universe.
1998, Simon & Schuster. Time Magazine's senior science
correspondent summarizes new ideas and discoveries in the SETI arena.
Seth Sharing the Universe: Perspectives on Extraterrestrial Life.
1998, Berkeley Hill. Popular-level thought-provoking essays on the
implications of SETI by one of the scientists involved.
Seth & Barrett, Alex Cosmic Company: The Search for Life
in the Universe. 2003, Cambridge University Press. A new book
introducing SETI for beginners.
David SETI Pioneers. 1990, University of Arizona Press. In-depth
interviews with a number of the leading scientists in the SETI field.
Stephen If the Univere is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody?
(50 Solutions to the Fermi Paradox). 2002, Copernicus/Springer
Verlag. The great physicist Enrico Fermi wondered one day why, if
life out there is common, aliens were not visiting us. Here are
many interesting possible answers to his question.
J., et al., eds. Social Implications of the Detection of an Extraterrestrial
Civilization. 1994, SETI Press, SETI Institute, 2035 Landings
Dr., Mountain View, CA 94043. This more scholarly, but interesting,
report describes the thinking, during a series of workshop that
considered how humanity would be affected if we did discover intelligent
life out there.
A Few Selected Articles about SETI in General
A. & MacRobert, A. "SETI Searches Today" in Sky & Telescope,
Dec. 1998, p. 44. On the scientific searches for signals from
other civilizations. (An updated version is kept on the Web at:
C. "The Search for Extraterrestrial Life" in Scientific
American, Oct. 1994, p. 93. Part of an entire issue devoted
to how the universe evolved to make life like us possible.
G. "The Chance of Finding Aliens: Re-evaluating the Drake Equation"
in Sky & Telescope, Dec. 1998, p. 36.
S. "When ET Calls Us" in Astronomy, Sep. 1997, p. 36. What
do we do when we receive a message.
S. "The Future of SETI" in Sky & Telescope, Apr. 2001,
p. 42. A nice long review article on new searches and new strategies.
J. & Chyba, C. "Is There Life Elsewhere in the Universe?" in
Scientific American, Dec. 1999, p. 118. A review of scientific
thinking about both intelligent life and life in general out there.
A. "How to Achieve Contact: Five Promising Strategies" on the web
An analysis of ways we might find out about intelligent life out
of Columns on SETI (written for Space.com by the scientists at the
SETI Institute, in clear accessible language): http://publish.seti.org/general/columns.php
Web Sites about SETI in General
(The Institute is the premier organization involved with the search
for intelligent life elsewhere and its site is full of good information
at many different levels.)
& Telescope Magazine SETI Articles: http://skyandtelescope.com/resources/SETI/
(This site from one of the two main astronomy magazines has a number
of useful articles.)
Planetary Society SETI Pages: http://www.planetary.org/html/UPDATES/seti/index.html
(Has information about various projects sponsored by this politically
active organization that encourages scientific exploration.)
SETI League: http://www.setileague.org
(This organization consists of people around the world doing SETI
searches as a hobby.)
Some Science Fiction Stories With A Realistic Portrayal of SETI
JamesThe Listeners. 1972, Signet. Good early portrayal of
a scientifically reasonable search.
Jack The Hercules Text. 1986, Ace. Flawed, but interesting
novel about radio communication with a distant civilization.
Carl Contact. 1985, Simon & Schuster.The discovery of
radio signals from extraterrestrial intelligence leads humanity
to re-evaluate its self-image. The heroine is loosely based on Jill
Tarter, the scientist who leads one of the major scientific searches
for signals today.
Robert Factoring Humanity. 1998, Tor. A radio message from
the direction of the nearby star Alpha Centauri helps humanity get
in touch with both another civilization and itself.
Norman "The Helping Hand" in Full Spectrum 3,ed. Lou Aronica,
et al., 1991, Bantam. An alien message unites humanity, but turns
out to be a benevolent lie.
C. & Brown H. The Cassiopeia Affair. 1968, Curtis. An
exploration of the effects that an alien radio message might have
on Earth. One of the authors is a geochemist.