Questions for ‘Reaching out to E.T. is a numbers game’


If anyone is planning to use a radio telescope, such as one of these, to send a message to aliens, they’ll need some help from math.


To accompany feature “Reaching out to E.T. is a numbers game


Before Reading

1.  If you were tasked with sending a message to some alien civilization in space, what “language” would you use? Explain your choice.

2.  How would you attempt to deliver that message?

During Reading:

1.    What was the nature of the message broadcast from the Arecibo telescope on Nov. 16, 1974?

2.    What does METI stand for?

3.    What are two geometry concepts proposed as ways to communicate with extraterrestrials back in the 1800s?

4.    What makes Douglas Vakoch’s proposed message language “binary?”

5.    What is a Fibonacci sequence?

6.    What technology does Philip Lubin use in his work on “directed-energy” systems?

7.    What caution does Lubin offer in deciding where to send a signal so that it doesn’t miss its target?

8.    Who is Frank Drake and what did his now-famous “Drake equation” seek to predict? And why hasn’t it worked, so far?

9.    Avi Loeb recommends asking a different question than Drake did. What is it?

10.  What kind of star system does Loeb recommend focusing on in the search for extraterrestrial life? Explain his reasoning.

After Reading

1.  If you were asked to come up with the message to be sent to an extraterrestrial civilization — one that would represent all humanity — what would say? What would you like that message to share about our species and the world on which we developed?

2.  If you had only the ability to send text or numbers — not photos — what five things would you choose to depict us (people, Earth and our solar system)?  Why those five and how would you choose to describe them?

Social studies:

1.  Brainstorm why an alien culture might wish to visit Earth (if it did) with two or three other students. Some up with at least four motivations for their long, expensive trek. Rank them in order of what you think they would find most important to least important. Now do the same for a team of humans leaving to explore a distant civilization. Were your rankings of the motivations the same or different? Explain why.

2.  What would be the two best things (to you) about meeting extraterrestrials — and the two most worrisome? Explain your reasoning.