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“RuBisCo Stars”: Part II

by Joe Davis

Yesterday we followed Joe Davis’ adventures in Puerto Rico as he arranged for the transmission of a message to the stars near the 35th anniversary of the famous message to M13, sent from the same site in 1974. Today Davis concludes the story, with a look at how the ‘RuBisCo’ message was put together, and thoughts on the ins and outs of getting unusual projects approved in today’s scientific climate.

I had a sort of showdown with Arecibo’s interim Director, Dr. Michael C. Nolan at the last minute and Danielle Hofmans’ detailed notes have made it possible for me to recount that conversation here. Nolan’s main problem was about politics. Arecibo once received a “Golden Fleece” award from Senator Proxmire for its involvement with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including its role in the Sagan-Drake transmission of 1974. That recollection has special resonance now since there are very serious ongoing concerns about future funding for the observatory.

Nolan argued that 35 years ago, the efforts of Carl Sagan and Frank Drake were carried out in a way that made “no sense”. I explained that projects concerned with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence are really more about a search for ourselves; that they make us look much more intensely at ourselves than we look away into space and that nobody seems to see that part of it. I wanted to make clear to him that this was not really a project about “aliens”.


Nolan countered that “Now you’re being too rational.” He seemed amused because I think he actually understood what I was trying to tell him, but his concern was that of the operator of a federally funded organization. He knows that he can’t sell ideas like these to politicians and university funding officers. He complained about the Byzantine ins and outs of funding both at federal and university levels. He said he was afraid of doing “marginal” things because he felt that projects like mine might ultimately get in the way of “serious” science. In spite of these concerns, Nolan added, something like, “We’re still negotiating. I still want to do this.”

Image credits (all images): Ashley Clark.

I pointed out that CETI in general addresses fundamental questions like “Is this who we are?” and “Is this what we know?” I asked him point blank if Arecibo was actually ashamed of the Sagan-Drake CETI message. Nolan answered that Drake’s scientific reputation has indeed been called into question (I don’t know why). He wasn’t very positive about Sagan either, except to say that he helped to popularize astronomy. At one point, Nolan proposed that I enter into collaboration with local amateur (ham) radio operators (which involves the use of Arecibo Radar to bounce radio signals off the moon) because, he said, “I’m licensed to take pictures of asteroids, not to do things like this.”

Almost as a last line of defense, I was advised of Arecebo’s disabled “coder”. I knew that I had to solve this problem at once or the allotted time on Arecibo Radar would run out. I would miss the opportunity to transmit signals on the 35th anniversary and perhaps, miss the opportunity altogether.

I pulled out my laptop and brought up pictures of the band-pass filter and gate used to get analog signals interfaced with Millstone radar 25 years ago. Nolan acknowledged that something like that might be possible at Arecibo, but he still seemed to be backpedaling. He asked how fast I could get that apparatus to Puerto Rico, knowing full well that even if I had it air-freighted from Cambridge, there would be no way it would arrive before my access to the radar would end on Monday (09 Nov). He suggested that I should consider putting off the whole project until some indefinite future date.


I realized that whatever options remained, they would have to be produced immediately with no time even to go away and fabricate something in say, a local machine shop (which of course, would be closed on the following day, a Sunday). I started thinking about what I had in my bags and in my pockets. I had my iPhone (eureka!). I also had a funky television connector inadvertently left in my computer bag from some earlier episode of trash mining in Cambridge and as it turned out, that connector was a crucial component needed to connect my iPhone to the radar. I proposed creating a sound file from the RuBisCo sequence that could then be recorded on my iPhone and interfaced with the radar. At that point, a surprised and still amused Michael Nolan relented.

But there was one last problem: How could the gene be sent out as a coded signal? One way would be to prepare a binary map by assigning numerical values to DNA nucleotides based on molecular weight where C=00 T=01 A=10 and G=11. The result is a 2868-bit binary sequence that is less than twice as large as the 1679-bit Sagan-Drake CETI message. Like the Sagan-Drake message, a transmission containing the RuBisCo sequence could be transmitted in a very brief period of time owing to its relatively small size:


One problem with this strategy is that the gene encoded in binary lacks punctuation. Anyone receiving the signal would have to guess that four bases were being encoded as paired binary bits: 00, 01, 10 and 11, otherwise it would just be a meaningless jumble. So instead, I decided to create sound files with spoken syllables where “space-one syllable-space” = C and so on to “space-four syllables-space”=G

This phonetic encoding technique also allowed me to interpose another layer of meaning in the message. The syllables were:

C) space – “I” – space
T) space – “amthe” – space
A) space – “knowyourself” – space
G) space – “riddleoflife” – space

These coded phrases reiterate the edict of Apollo that is inscribed at the entrance to the temple at Delphi where it says, “Know yourself and you will know all of the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the gods”. I think Arecibo Observatory is somehow analogous to the temple at Delphi. Astronomers at Arecibo routinely glean the heavens to uncover such secrets. Do a little algebra and it’s obvious that they must also be learning something about ourselves.

We used Apple’s “Speak” option to vocalize the phonetic code which I then recorded on my iPhone. Here is a fragment of the total message, the whole of which can be decoded unambiguously into the gene for RuBisCo:

knowyourself amthe riddleoflife amthe I knowyourself I I knowyourself I knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself I knowyourself riddleoflife knowyourself riddleoflife knowyourself I amthe knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself riddleoflife I knowyourself
knowyourself riddleoflife amthe riddleoflife amthe amthe riddleoflife riddleoflife knowyourself amthe amthe I knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself riddleoflife I amthe riddleoflife riddleoflife amthe riddleoflife amthe amthe knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself riddleoflife knowyourself riddleoflife amthe knowyourself I knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself amthe amthe riddleoflife knowyourself I amthe amthe knowyourself amthe amthe knowyourself amthe knowyourself I amthe I I amthe riddleoflife knowyourself riddleoflife amthe knowyourself I I knowyourself knowyourself knowyourself I I knowyourself knowyourself riddleoflife riddleoflife knowyourself amthe knowyourself I amthe riddleoflife knowyourself amthe knowyourself amthe knowyourself amthe amthe riddleoflife riddleoflife I knowyourself riddleoflife I knowyourself amthe amthe I I riddleoflife knowyourself riddleoflife amthe knowyourself knowyourself I amthe I I amthe I knowyourself knowyourself

The Wunderlichs, Ashley Clark, Danielle Hofmans and I spent the next couple of hours creating sound files and hacking the connections with the iPhone, assorted cables and alligator clips. While setting up the iPhone connections, we conducted test transmissions using the song, “Run Come See Jerusalem” by Bahamian musician and songwriter, Andrew Jones (Spirit House Records). At the moment we hooked up the iPhone to the radar, the energy and excitement in the Arecibo control room was literally palpable. Everyone, including Arecibo staff and visiting scientists seemed to be infected by the effort. Then, we interfaced my iPhone with Arecibo’s powerful radar and transmitted from approximately 11:30 p.m. until 12:45 a.m. The duration of each transmission was approximately 5 times longer than the 1974 Sagan-Drake transmission. We spent that hour and 15 minutes transmitting messages to the three “RuBisCo Stars” listed in the text above (see yesterday’s post).


On Sunday, I was invited to help prepare an extremely sensitive set of microwave detectors for experiments scheduled for Monday to search for pulsars. The detectors happen to be located 500 ft above the Arecibo radar dish suspended in a steel truss platform. Ashley and Danielle and I all went up there early in the afternoon. There was a sudden torrential downpour while we were still “hanging out” on the truss. I have to say it was one of the scariest, most exciting moments I’ve had in the past several years. I loved it.

There are no bars (of any kind) out at Arecibo Observatory. In order to avoid RF interference with sensitive instruments, the use of cell phones, digital cameras and video recorders are all strictly prohibited on observatory grounds.

We were nevertheless granted unprecedented access to photograph the observatory and coordinated all of our video and digital photography with the Arecibo control room. Serendipitously, Ashley Clark’s 8 x 10 film camera was the only imaging device that we were permitted to use continuously since it contains no batteries or electronics. We are also grateful to Arecibo Observatory for making accommodations there available to us through the several days in which we pursued the project.

I delivered a talk on at 11:00 a.m. on Monday 09 Nov. for Arecibo staff and scientists. I think there was visible skepticism on the faces of my audience when they walked into the room and visible excitement when they left. At lunch Michael Nolan and I talked about coauthoring a journal article.

I imagined an article with Mike about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in general – 35 years on – and what it has meant to astronomy and to society as a whole (pros and cons). There, I would mention the RuBisCo transmission but not focus on it. Instead, I would want to show how SETI has helped to drive a broad spectrum of research, providing jobs for astronomers and others and motivated millions of lay enthusiasts to contribute in spite of the lack of federal funding. I would also want to point out that Arecibo Radar is actively contributing significant knowledge about the cosmos almost daily. Some of it is “save-the-world” knowledge, like profiling near-Earth asteroids that will one day pose a real threat. They are mapping the lunar surface and subsurface with unrivaled detail, finding heretofore undiscovered pulsars and more.


I’d like to say I’ve had enough adventures for one week, but it’s not really true. Now I will have to balance books. I applied for two small grants to help me do this. Both were denied. I was not funded by MIT, the government, or anyone else to carry out this project. It has been expensive, at least, from my point of view. I do have the coolest iPhone now, so how can I complain? Who knows who’s going to be calling back?


On Thursday evening (12 Nov) I learned that the journal Nature assigned the “rubisco stars” story to science writer Steve Nadis provided he could guarantee that Arecibo has not been used to send an “active SETI” message since 1974, which of course, is actually the case.

Then, according to Steve Nadis, Arecibo Director Mike Nolan told him there wasn’t any way he could write the story so that it could not potentially hurt him or Arecibo. So Nadis has put it on hold indefinitely… This has been especially poignant since Nadis, Nolan and myself remain uniformly committed to the importance of astronomy at Arecibo.

Funny, isn’t it? Aristotle knew that you have to reveal yourself to yourself before you can reveal yourself to anyone else (theory of tragedy in the Poetics). Tragically, it appears easier to transmit a signal to extraterrestrial intelligence than to transmit one to ourselves. It is tragic also that one of the most interesting items of knowledge about ourselves we can learn from our efforts to transmit messages to other stars is that most serious efforts to send messages to extraterrestrials have become mired in episodes of censorship.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dan Lowe November 19, 2009, 17:09

    I find it peculiar that no matter how random and varied a person’s encounters over the course of a day might seem, they have a way of threading themselves together in convenient relation. After a brief conversation this morning in which I happened to bring up my aspirations to open up a musty old bookstore with a guy who happened to be representing an organization that was working to redevelop main street business in rocky mountain towns (with businesses that, unlike bookstores and intergalactic voice messages, are actually economical), I took a moment to settle down and opened up my blogroll for the first time in some weeks. The fourth or fifth most recent entry, out of thousands of them from hundreds of blogs, was this article. After reading through part one and its comments, many of which raising doubts about humanity’s readiness to reach out to the universe, and finishing on the tragic note that this might be the only place I’d hear an account of the RuBisCo transmission, I was right back in the mindset from this morning; namely, the futility of trying to escape the 9-to-5.

    Then I started to thumb through this obscure science fiction title by one Olaf Stapledon that I picked up yesterday for a dollar, and opened to this:

    “I sat down on the heather. Overhead obscurity was now in full retreat. In its rear the freed population of the sky sprang out of hiding, star by star.

    On every side the shadowy hills or the guessed, featureless sea extended beyond sight. But the hawk-flight of the imagination followed them as they curved downward below the horizon. I perceived that I was on a little round grain of rock and metal filmed with water and with air, whirling in sunlight and darkness. And on the skin of that little grain all the swarms of men, generation by generation, had lived in labour and blindness, with intermittent joy and intermittent lucidity of spirit. And all their history, with its folk-wanderings, its empires, its philosophies, its proud sciences, its social revolutions, its increasing hunger for community was but a flicker in one day of the lives of stars.

    If one could know whether among that glittering host there were here and there other spirit-inhabited grains of rock and metal, whether man’s blundering search for wisdom and for love was a sole and insignificant tremor, or part of a universal movement.” (Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon)

    It’s probably just that I have my own narrow interests, and that given the relative quantity of information on the internet, I’ve bundled those things that relate to things I’d spend my morning on, but I can’t help but think that in the same way that ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase is so pervasive in terrestrial biology, this need to find reflection (almost literally) in the stars is something so central it shouldn’t be marginalized. And while I agree with some of the former commentators yesterday that the human race is too immature technologically and socially to be blindly grasping for extraterrestrial acknowledgment, the very act of trying to – or of developing the best way how – is as tantamount to the human endeavor itself as anything.

    So, good luck.

  • Administrator November 19, 2009, 17:35

    Wonderful thoughts, Dan. And thanks for the quotation from Olaf Stapledon, a personal favorite of mine, and of many who dream of the stars.

  • David November 19, 2009, 18:16

    Interesting and exciting work. Hadn’t heard about Davis until this series, looking forward to further guest postings. What is the best place to follow his work?

  • Doug M. November 19, 2009, 19:01

    “most serious efforts to send messages to extraterrestrials have become mired in episodes of censorship.”

    I caught the part where the director didn’t want to talk to the journalist. But I missed how that translates into “most” CETI efforts becoming “mired in episodes of censorship”.

    Doug M.

  • Administrator November 19, 2009, 19:04

    David writes:

    Interesting and exciting work. Hadn’t heard about Davis until this series, looking forward to further guest postings. What is the best place to follow his work?

    Since Joe is following this thread, I’ll let him have the final say on that, as I’m not sure what venue would be the best. Joe?

  • TheoA November 19, 2009, 19:07

    I must appreciate the effort involved in getting the message out.

    The negativity of comments in the previous post were quite unnecessary.

    It is a surprise that Arecibo has nor been used for even the smallest snippets of communication for the last 30 years. As our civilization continues to go dark, organized efforts such as this are likely to grow more important.

  • devicerandom November 19, 2009, 19:08

    If Joe is interested, I answered on the previous post.

  • Matt Metcalf November 19, 2009, 19:15

    It sounds like his long distance bill is going to be… are you ready for it?… astronomical.

  • Adam November 19, 2009, 19:30

    A question for Joe: are his efforts more art than science? The odds of communication are surely miniscule, but the exercise isn’t really for the benefit of ETIs is it?

  • Joe Davis November 19, 2009, 21:53

    To: Dan Lowe


    To: Doug M.

    As I mentioned in the “Rubisco Stars” story, Arecibo Observatory received a Proxmire “Golden Fleece” award in part for it’s participation in the Sagan-Drake METI, which amounts to retroactive censorship in my mind. I’m sure it stifled serious scientific SETI investigations for many years thereafter.

    Both Pioneer and Voyager message plaques (and records) were censored. Female genitalia were omitted from Pioneer messages and all nude human images were omitted from Voyager messages. In a personal telephone conversation I had with Frank Drake more than a decade ago, he mentioned that Gray’s Anatomy illustrations of the human urogenital system were also censored from deeply encrypted still frame video images included in the Voyager record data. It’s hard to imagine why these plaques were so harshly censored since the spacecraft in question aren’t headed for anyplace in particular and will not encounter the planetary environment of any star for at least a billion years.

    The Air Force shut down our “Poetica Vaginal” transmissions at Haystack Observatory in 1986.

    Evidently, ETI aren’t entitled to know what we look like or that we have sex. These “messages of omission” reveal a great deal more to and about human beings and the civilization that created the messages than we would probably want to admit.

    Ever wonder why there are so many reports of abductions with alien experiments on human sex organs?

    To: Paul and David

    I’m found pretty easily online. Search “Joe Davis MIT” or “Joe Davis Bioart” for starters. I confess that I do not have a webpage of my own but many of my projects are widely discussed.

    Several hardcopy books have been published in the past few years with chapters by or about me. These include “Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes”, a chapter in “BioMediale: Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture” – D. Bulatov ed., (published in Russian and English – The National Center for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad Branch, Russia, The National Publishing House “Yantamy Skar”, Kaliningrad, Russia, 2004); “Cases for Genetic Art” a chapter in “Signs of Life: Bioart and Beyond” (E. Kac ed., MIT Press 2007); Jon Ippolito and Joline Blais’ ” At The Edge of Art ” (Thames and Hudson 2007 – this book both opens and closes with discussions of my work ); James Elkins’ “Six Stories from the End of Representation” (Stanford Univ. Press, 2008); “Art Biology and the Body Politic” in “Art in The Biotech Era” with Yiannis Melanitis, Melentie Pandilovski ed., (Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Australia 2008); Ingeborg Reichle’s ” Art in the Age of Technoscience: Genetic Engineering, Robotics and Artificial Life In Contemporary Art” (Springer, New York/Vienna, 2009 – A chapter in this book, “Genetics: Molecular Biology and Microbiology in the Arts” tracks 20 years of my work) .

    I was first author of, “Art and Genetics” in NATURE: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE HUMAN GENOME with Dana Boyd, Marek Weiczorek, and Hunter O’Reilly, (Macmillan 2003).

    News articles have appeared in NATURE over the years about several projects, most notably “Science for Art’s Sake” (NATURE|VOL 407|12 OCTOBER 2000, pp. 668-670) and “Genetic Art Builds Cryptic Bridge Between Two Cultures” (NATURE|VOL 378|16 NOVEMBER 1995, pp. 229)

    SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN also profiled me in 2000, but that article is fairly ubiquitous online. You can also contact me at MIT and I could forward you references to a number of other periodicals and journal articles.

    ABC News is still selling DVDs/CDs of a NIGHTLINE episode (July, 2001) “Joe Davis – Gone Fishing”, a feature about my audio and fishing microscopes.

    Joe Davis

  • ljk November 20, 2009, 0:16

    To add to Joe Davis’ censorship comments regarding SETI,
    NASA’s SETI effort, which lasted but one year from 1992 to
    1993, had its funding cut by certain members of the US
    Congress who were as ignorant of SETI, bioastronomy, and
    science in general as Proxmire was.

    An online paper on that tragic error in human history here:


    On the plus side, NASA’s SETI effort became the private effort called
    Project Phoenix of The SETI Institute, which now has its own “fleet”
    of radio telescopes to do their own SETI and other astronomy efforts,
    free from government control and without using any taxpayer money.

    Regarding Joe’s comments on his and other METI projects being
    messages to ourselves in one big sense, here is a relevant quote
    from Carl Sagan which he made in a 1973 book from MIT Press
    about one of the very first international SETI conferences:

    “In a very real sense this search for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for a cosmic context for mankind, a search for who we are, where we have come from, and what possibilities there are for our future – in a universe vaster both in extent and duration than our forefathers ever dreamed of.”

    – from Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI), Carl Sagan,
    Editor, 1973, MIT Press, “Introduction”, pp. ix-x.

    Here is Carl Sagan talking about Arecibo, the Message to M13,
    the Drake Equation, and more from Cosmos Episode 12:


    The 1974 Arecibo Message in sound:


  • philw1776 November 20, 2009, 12:29

    I see this quest as performance art, certainly not science in any meaningful sense. I don’t have a problem with that. It is what it is.

  • Tibor November 20, 2009, 16:40

    …METI projects being messages to ourselves in one big sense

    – I would like to put my two cents on this, with a wording from a private email I’ve sent just a month ago:

    My dream is eventually to see the launch of a real starship with a real message on board, with many people participating in such a mission. This will be a really historical moment, I believe. But what is much more important for me, that on the way to such an event – which may not occur in my lifetime – I see an enormous possibility to reach millions. Thinking about a message for “the absolute foreign” gives us the chance to think about communication between humans and cultures, about understanding each other and about ourselves. In this sense I hope Faces from Earth will be able to create social value as well, amending the scientific education re the Universe, Starflight and Life in the Universe.

    I may paraphrase the famous Anders quote from the Apollo 8 flight “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth” in a sense that “flying to the stars helps us to find ourselves and our place in the Universe”.

  • Adam November 20, 2009, 17:03

    Stepping outside one’s usual boundaries is always a worthwhile change of perspective. METI efforts are a deliberate attempt at seeing ourselves through alien eyes and quite legitimate for that reason – art or science, since neither has an exclusive claim on that strange hybrid region which ETIs currently inhabit in “Imagination Land”.

    But I do wonder if we’re misunderstanding a thousand messages from the skies pointed our way which we have yet to see as artificial. Perhaps the skies would speak volumes if we could read them…

  • James M. Essig November 21, 2009, 20:02

    Hi Folks;

    These two threads on SETI topics are great with much inspiring discussion.

    I was just paning through both of these treads when a really freaky idea occured to me.

    Well to start off, we are in general familiar with the concept that blackhole sthat are rapidly rotating might have a toriodal like ring structure in what I will otherwise call the black hole center. According to some general relativists, if an object were to pass through the center at an appropriate angle of incidence, the object might in effect pop out into a remote region in space time within our universe, past, present, or future, into another universe, or perhaps into some sort of parallel universe.

    Now for stellar mass range blackholes, even a superhard superstrong pure diamond graphite information pod, a layered graphene information pod, or even an information pod composed of the strongest carbon nanotubes, would be torn to shreads upon even approaching the blackhole event horizon externally.

    However, an electromagnetic wave is a different entity and it would be hard for nature to seperate the electric and the magnetic component of an EM wave in the vacuum of space. Perhaps if the wavelength of EM radiation directed into a stellar mass range blackhole was short enough, even the extreme space time distortion or turbulance near the heart of a rapidly rotating blackhole would not destroy an EM digital signal wave packet provided the wavelength of the modulated photons was small enough.

    No doubt, a non rotating black hole of even super massive scale would probably effectively destroy any photons that fell into the blackhole and as a result, would be crushed into oblivion in the central point like, or at least Planck Density like central singularity. However, a rapidly enough rotating stellar massed blackhole might just be our first ticket to doing METI/SETI programs into remote location in our universe past, present, or future, or perhaps into locations in other universes and perhaps even in higher dimensional Kaluza Klein like large hyper-spatial dimensions.

    I guess the possibility of such signal transmission would require that the space time distortion of stellar mass range blackholes, rotating at a velocity near the maximal value of C, near the would be central ring like structure would not be too severe to destroy the modulated photon energy, or the fidelity of the wave packet modulation, the latter situation which might result from the distortion effects of the roiling space time near the center of the blackhole acting to blur the modulated signal and/or make the signal unrecognizable.

    If we could some how aim UV, hard UV, soft x-ray, or x-ray laser light precisely into the center of any known or conjectured nearby stellar mass range blackholes that are deemed to be rapidly rotating, perhaps our signals can get through in an intelliglble manner.

    If such signals could be made to be determinably on track to enter such a blackhole, and at macroscopic scales, Classical Causal Determinism holds rigorously as Einstein would have us believe, perhaps even so in light of quantum indeterminism and uncertaintly whose effects might simply wash out effectively completely on ordinary natural macroscopic scales, perhaps we could somehow tamper with remote locations in space and time, past, present, or future, or in other universes in such a manner that deterministic effects or causal couplings might be produced or induced between Earth and any such remote locations via some sort of time traveling effects that would otherwise be screened by any cosmic censorship principles normally operative in nature. If such couplings could be tailor made, some interesting spatial temporal, mass energy transport, and other thermodynamic effects might be made to manifest seemingly out of no where here on Earth.

  • James M. Essig November 21, 2009, 20:20

    Hi Folks;

    Regarding my previous post I had the following additional comments to add.

    Some sort of feedback mechanisms or couplings might be established between present day Earth and our past, or perhaps even our distant past, or perhaps from our future, or even our distant future via the medium of laser light directed into such black holes in such a manner that time traveling feedback effects might be produced that we originate from our present in such a manner that we effectively change our past, even if ever so slightly, to alter our present in a limitingly safe manner. This technology might also permit us to pre-emptively change our future.

    Note that such effects would require that a real continuum exists in the form of the past through the future in a general relativistic like manner and where causal determinism could be used to manipulate the structure within the continuum even in the case where such structure(s) is(are) already pre-determinately set by nature.

  • Joe Davis November 23, 2009, 0:39

    To: James M Essig

    What wonderful musings!

    Please forgive me if I am “preaching to the choir” but as I understand it, Richard Feynman also had ideas about tranmissions that proceed backward through time. Just as the square root of 9 is both 3 and -3, likewise, many equations of electromagnetism have two possible solutions . One, like the positive root, describes waves tavelling into the future, arriving at the receiver after leaving the transmitter. Feynman called these “retarded waves”. The other solution, like the negative root, describes what he called “advanced waves” that arrive from the future. He postulated that energy traveling back in time to the receiver generates interference – one wave cancelling another. All secondary advanced waves would cancel out the initial advanced waves at the transmitter and all their energy would go into retarded waves. But perhaps not all advanced waves are so perfectly cancelled. There may be wave echos, or “ghosts” travelling backward and forward across time.

    Some thinking suggests looking for evidence of advancd waves in cryogenically cooled semiconductors where electrons appear in mysterious pairs but become solitary at higher temperatures. One might look for advanced wave modulation by monitoring power output at the transmitter beamed to different absorbers or in collision rates of powerful particle accellerators. Unfortunately, no really compelling evidence for such advanced waves has been observed to date.

    Stephen Baxter, mathematician, engineer and science fiction writer expands on the implications of “Feynman Radio” in his book, “Manifold Time” ( ISBN 034543076X)


    I. Schmidt, R. Newman in BULLETIN OF THE AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY, Vol. 25, p.581 (1979)

    See also: Partridge, Newman( earlier)

    John Cramer, REVIEWS OF MODERN PHYSICS Vol. 58, p. 685 (1986)

    It is fascinating to consider what sort of messages would be transmitted and received back and forth through time. Such messages would certainly compound the already apparently insurmountable problems associated with METI. Would they inevitably concern the ultimate end of things, doomsday scenarios? Would we try to alter fate? Could we?

    I would certainly like a chance to try.

    Now I think I’m going to bring one of my crystal radio sets to lab and drop it into some liquid helium.

  • codevark November 23, 2009, 9:04

    Surely, they already have scraped this genome from one or more abductees. Seems a little a little redundant to send it to their homesystem. And if it is big news, are we sure that’s the kind of data we want to be tossing around (we do enough of that right here..), when we can’t be sure of the disposition or inclination of the unidentified recipients? Couldn’t they use it to open a big can of biochemical whup-ass on us? Or create a mirror race of humanoid drones to “reply” and then slowly degenerate our species via a series of well-coordinated and fun-for-the-whole-family deepspace vacation get-aways…?

  • Joe Davis November 23, 2009, 11:15


    Suggested searches for Feynman’s “advanced waves” involve cryogenically cooled superconductors, not cryogeninically cooled semiconductors as noted in my previous posting. I’m dunking one of my crystal radio sets nevertheless.

  • James M. Essig November 23, 2009, 15:18

    Hi Joe Davis;

    Thanks for the enthusiastic and kind remarks.

    The materials you presented regarding the theoretical possibility of advanced waves are indeed very interesting. The fact that renormalization procedures in quantum electrodynamics leads to cancellations of infinite terms which are other wise hard to deal with but which permit finite values for parameters in computations where these infinities crop up might have its analogue in the non-complete cancellations or non-complete washout of advanced wave phenomenon even given any classical EM equation based physics where imaginary solutions and quantities show up as dual conterparts to real solutions.

    Classical Electromagnetic Theory is a subject that strongly interests me and is perhaps under-emphasized now that quantum-electro-dynamics and more recently, the electroweak unification, have been developed to various degrees.

    The concept of solar magnetic field lines snapping and reconnecting seemed to be somewhat of a taboo subject in decades passed but has reportedly been observed as an energy release mechanisms for various solar flare like activities such as Coronal Mass Ejections.

    Another interesting recent development of Classical Electrodynamics is the development of negative EM refraction index meta-materials within various laboratories around the globe. Duke University is one of the reported leaders within this field.

    Classical Electromagnetic Theory is a beautiful paradigm and I hope that there are many more counterintuitive discoveries and novel applications of Maxwellian Electromagnetic Theory.

    Another subject that interests me involves the notion of any possible existence of more than one dimension of time.



  • James M. Essig November 23, 2009, 15:44

    Hi Joe Davis;

    Sorry for the above erroneous statement in my previous post above.

    More accurately, since Maxwell’s Equations have useful solutions that include imaginary components for every day observed phenomenon, I should have made this distinction. What I meant to state in my previous posting above, is that the particular imaginary solutions of EM equations that are thrown out as being useless or meaningless, as well as the particular negative valued computed results such as the ones you mentioned above as corresponding to advanced waves might have objective real meaning or existence to the extent that such imaginary and/or negative real numbered values would not cancell out or otherwise be interpreted as meaningless.

  • ljk December 2, 2009, 0:21

    Testing SETI Message Designs

    Authors: Michael W. Busch, Rachel M. Reddick

    (Submitted on 20 Nov 2009 (v1), last revised 23 Nov 2009 (this version, v2))

    Abstract: Much work in SETI has focused on detecting radio broadcasts due to extraterrestrial intelligence, but there have been limited efforts to transmit messages over interstellar distances.

    As a check if such messages can be interpreted once received, we conducted a blind test. One of us coded a 75-kilobit message, which the other then attempted to decipher.

    The decryption was accurate, supporting the message design as a general structure for communicating with aliens capable of detecting narrow-band radio transmissions.

    Comments: The first 8 pages of the document contain the abstract, paper, and references. The remainder is supplementary material

    Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Popular Physics (physics.pop-ph)

    Cite as: arXiv:0911.3976v2 [astro-ph.IM]

    Submission history

    From: Michael Busch [view email]

    [v1] Fri, 20 Nov 2009 06:56:36 GMT (377kb)

    [v2] Mon, 23 Nov 2009 21:30:51 GMT (377kb)


  • ljk December 5, 2009, 1:49

    Ann Druyan was grateful for Joe Davis’ commemorative efforts
    regarding the 1974 Arecibo Message as quoted from this article:


    Afterward, Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow, read about Davis’ transmission and sent him a note thanking him for commemorating the 1974 message, “and especially for doing it with such flair.” She added, “I know Carl would have loved the iPhone story. (As did I.)”

    This article also contains some very interesting commentary
    from Frank Drake, author of the 1974 Arecibo Message:


  • Joe Davis December 5, 2009, 21:53

    RuBisCo Stars has inspired an ongoing review of historical details surrounding the 1974 transmission and clarifications of the individual roles of figures involved with the composition of that message and its subsequent transmission. This is at least one indication that the RuBisCo Stars message is being received very clearly on our own planet.

    Despite numerous references to the contrary, the late Dr. Carl Sagan actually had little or nothing to do with events at Arecibo in November 1974. Assertions that Sagan collaborated with Dr. Frank Drake at Arecibo (in my own texts and elsewhere) now stand corrected. In the past, Drake has referred to Sagan’s participation in tests to see if the Arecibo message could be decoded by at least one type of intelligence. Drake’s collaboration with Sagan on the Pioneer message plaques and Voyager records may have helped to originate the widespread notion that Sagan also collaborated with Drake in the creation of the Arecibo message.

    The motion of stars targeted by the Drake message will move them away from the Arecibo signal in the 25,000 years it will take it to get there, but only by an estimated total transverse component of motion of about 24 light years.

    Dr. Drake has noted that the diameter of the M13 globular cluster of stars is approximately 168 light years so only about 1/7 of the stars that the Drake message was aimed at will have moved away by the time the signal arrives. Still, one wonders why the 1974 transmission was not offset (by 3 arc minutes) to compensate. If the M13 cluster consists of several hundred thousand stars, then conservatively speaking, 28,500 stars will pass through the targeted space before the 1974 Arecibo message arrives.

    Parts of Dr. Drake’s recent email on these details have now been posted at


    An excerpt from one of Dr. Sagan’s public television broadcasts concerning active SETI transmissions from Arecibo can be viewed at


    – Joe Davis

  • Joe Davis December 5, 2009, 22:29

    Estimations of the positions of stars in the M13 cluster relative to the circular field of the incoming Arecibo message may not matter in any case since the message beam will have diverged considerably by the time it arrives and any potential receiver may have to be fortuitously located near the center of the beam in order to detect it.

    Joe Davis

  • ljk August 22, 2012, 17:09

    When Joe Davis tried his METI project at Arecibo in 2009, he had so many roadblocks thrown in his path by the administrator at the time that without a combination of ingenuity, the right equipment at the right time, and just plain luck, his broadcast into the galaxy might never have happened, at least at that observatory.

    Judging by what I have posted below, Arecibo seems to have relaxed their restrictions regarding METI, at least in this case. I also have the feeling that some currency thrown their way didn’t hurt either, along with the publicity.

    Though I am surprised they agreed to this with the endeavor being mixed in with the Nat Geo Channel’s cheesy UFO program; then again, economic hardships do create unusual situations. For those who are concerned about what we beam into the Milky Way, this is just the latest incident which shows that no one seems to be seriously in charge of policing METI.

    The article:


    National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) sends a WOW! Signal reply using the Arecibo Observatory

    August 15, 2012

    Today, August 15, 2012, 35 years after the detection of the WOW! Signal, the Arecibo Observatory and NatGeo (National Geographic Channel), will be encoding, and transmitting a Reply to the Wow! signal using Arecibo Observatory’s 1-megawatt (MW) continuous-wave (CW) S-band transmitter, at 2380 MHz (12.6 cm wavelength) to send a global tweet into space.

    On Aug. 15, 1977, as part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio observatory detected a strong 72-second radio signal from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. When astronomer Jerry Ehman noticed the unusual spike — consisting of six letters and numbers — on the computer printout, he wrote the word “Wow!” in the margin of the sheet. Scientists tried to find this Wow signal again but it never reappeared.

    Even though, the debate continues as to whether or not this was an actual alien contact, the Arecibo Observatory and National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) joined in a bold plan so that the the world’s largest ground-based radio telescope administered by SRI International, Universities Space Research Association and Universidad Metropolitana would decide how the tweets could be encoded and transmitted to finally send a reply back into the final frontier of space.

    NatGeo spokeswoman Courteney Monroe said, “We wanted to come up with some sort of social experiment where we would galvanize people to tap into the curiosity about whether there is life and intelligence elsewhere..” After all the global tweets were collected, NatGeo and Arecibo Observatory sent out one big intergalactic tweet.

    As part of this project, National Geographic Channel (NatGeo) has posted a special edition of the program Chasing UFO’s that was filmed on location at the Arecibo Observatory in commemoration of the 35 anniversary of the WOW signal.


    * First picture: NatGeoTV web site
    * Second picture: Transmission of WOW Reply in progress at the Arecibo Observatory
    * Third Picture: Arecibo Observatory Director, Robert Kerr and Erin Ryder from Chasing UFO’


    Tony Acevedo Ivonne Rosario Bermúdez
    Communications Officer Directora de Medios
    Arecibo Observatory Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez
    787-878-2612, ext.228 787-751-0178, ext. 7181
    jacevedo@naic.edu ivrosario@suagm.edu