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Decoding the Mystery: The Year-Long Quest of "A Sign in Space"

Extraterrestrial SETI

After more than a year of anticipation, the multidisciplinary art project "A Sign in Space," launched by SETI Artist in Residence Daniela De Paulis, has finally seen its mysterious message decoded. On June 7, 2024, De Paulis received the decoded message from a father-daughter team who wish to remain anonymous, so let's call them "John" and "Sarah."

The decoded message, John and Sarah revealed, was a simple yet profound image: five amino acids displayed in a universal organic molecular diagram notation. Alongside these were a few single-pixel points scattered between the clusters and molecular diagrams. John elaborated on their process:

"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. This conserved the pixel or point count, with 625 pixels in and 625 out. The starmap image appeared 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 ran my Unity game engine-based simulator forwards (CCW rotation) and backwards (CW rotation) in time, transforming the starmap representation to the amino acid diagrams in 6625 generations and reversing the rotation process to transform the amino acid diagrams back to the starmap image in 6625 generations. 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 explained.

The journey began in May 2023, when De Paulis and her global team sent an encoded message from the European Space Agency's (ESA) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) back to Earth. This simulation of an extraterrestrial signal was "detected" by four radio astronomy observatories: 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 message remained a mystery, even to most of the project collaborators—until now.

"A Sign in Space" has captivated audiences worldwide, earning global recognition, international press coverage, and significantly boosting the visibility of SETI science. The public was invited to decode and interpret the message via the A Sign in Space Discord server community, where thousands joined the conversation and submitted hundreds of possible solutions.

This project uniquely blends theater and science, exploring the intricate process of decoding an extraterrestrial message and interpreting its meaning. De Paulis has fostered international cooperation, bringing together the global SETI community, professionals from various fields, and the general public. This initiative has sparked meaningful dialogue about SETI, space research, and their implications across different cultures and domains.

Now that John and Sarah have cracked the code, the exploration is far from over. The community is invited to dive deeper into the decoded message and its potential significance. Here are some ways to engage:

  1. Analyze and Replicate: Utilize the description and solution provided by John to conduct your own analysis. Share your results in the #solution channel on the Discord server. Replication is a cornerstone of scientific discovery.
  2. Interpret the Message: What do these five amino acids signify? Share your interpretations in the #interpretation channel. Let's discuss what this decoded message could mean.

Join the conversation and be part of this ongoing journey to understand the message from "A Sign in Space." The adventure continues!