René Heller, astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, has set a challenge to the public - to crack an encrypted binary message.
The idea being, that if some bright spark manages it, we're all set for when aliens attempt to contact us using binary code.
Heller called it the Seti Decrypt Challenge, which is meant to reveal physical aspects of the aliens, as well as intentions for visiting.
The challenge is as follows:
This is a call for a fun scientific challenge.
Suppose a telescope on Earth receives a series of pulses from a fixed, unresolved source beyond the solar system.
The source is a star about 50 light years from Earth. The pulses are in the form of short/long signals and they are received in a very narrow band around an electromagnetic frequency of 452.12919 MHz.
A computer algorithm identifies the artificial nature of the pulses. It turns out the pulses carry a message. The pulses signify binary digits. Suppose further that you were, by whatsoever reason, put in charge of decoding this message. If you successfully decrypted the message, you should be able to answer the following questions:
1. What is the typical body height of our interstellar counterparts?
2. What is their typical lifetime?
3. What is the scale of the devices they used to submit their message?
4. Since when have they been communicating interstellar?
5. What kind of object do they live on?
6. How old is their stellar system?
The competition closes on 3 June.
Some of Heller's current work also looks at alternatives for energy beyond the sun.
In June, he will be giving a seminar around energy sources being derived from moons - normally this comes from suns.
"Beyond Earth, other worlds in the solar system could be habitable as well, think of the icy moons around Jupiter and Saturn. These moons receive little sunlight because they are far from our host star. Life could not survive on their surfaces, because these moons have no appreciable atmospheres or liquid water.
"Liquid water exists, however, beyond the frozen surfaces of Europa and possibly Ganymede (both orbiting Jupiter) and under the ice shield of the tiny moon Enceladus around Saturn. The orbital energy of these moons has been identified as a possible energy source, as it is transformed into an internal "geological heat source via friction in the moons."