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Could Kids Have the Solution to Making First Contact with Aliens?

One of the toughest challenges facing SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and other alien life researchers has long been how to best make first contact. When explorers sailed the oceans centuries ago and found people who spoke different languages, at least there was a common human bond. This permitted the explorers to use trinkets and common objects with which communication could be opened.

But when searching for alien life forms, we have no idea how they will communicate and what will bear importance to them. Furthermore, we have no clue whether we will share anything in common which could be used to grow communication between the species. The problem is more akin to trying to communicate with a dog or cat – even that may be a simpler task.


Attempts to Communicate with Alien Life

Starting in 1974, alien life researchers sent the first message intended for extraterrestrial life forms. From Puerto Rico, the Arecibo radio telescope began to transmit everything from earth’s coordinates to the structure of our DNA. The goal was to provide prospective alien neighbors with what they would need to find and perhaps understand us.

Since that time, some have warned that making such a contact would be catastrophic to humanity. This is because there is always the possibility that first contact could be with a violent species or that a message sent out could be taken in the wrong context. If our friendly message is not well received and an alien race has the ability to reach earth, they would surely also have the ability to wipe us off the planet.

For good reason, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and many others have suggested we exercise extreme caution when sending messages.


One Key Problem to Communication

Aside from the obvious language problems which are likely should we actually make first contact, there could be a serious issue with the communication mode. Extraterrestrials may not use a spoken language at all; they may instead communicate some other way. Thus, many researchers have suggested using math, digital signals, or even images similar to hieroglyphs.

In early 2019, scientists at the UK SETI Research Network started doing what many believe should have been done from the start – getting input from the public. Aligned with this, researchers at the Arecibo Observatory asked children to participate in a contest to determine the next message sent. Why kids?


Alessandra Abe Pacini, is a researcher at Arecibo. She helped the idea for the contest and explained why kids would the best people to decide what to say in first contact.

“Sometimes the scientists are so focused on their topics and they can see stuff very deep but they cannot see very broad…Students know a little bit about everything, so they can see the big picture better. For sure they can design a message that is actually much more important.”

The contest started April 22, 2019 (Earth Day) and closed with the June Solstice. The winning team will be announced at the Arecibo Observatory Week celebration November 11-16. We are eager to hear what the children have to say.

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