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Decryption of messages from extraterrestrial intelligence using the power of social media – The SETI Decrypt Challenge

  • René Heller (a1)

With the advent of modern astronomy, humans might now have acquired the technological and intellectual requirements to communicate with other intelligent beings beyond the solar system, if they exist. Radio signals have been identified as a means for interstellar communication about 60 years ago. And the Square Kilometer Array will be capable of detecting extrasolar radio sources analogous to terrestrial high-power radars out to several tens of light years. The ultimate question is: will we be able to understand the message or, vice versa, if we submit a message to extraterrestrial intelligence first, how can we make sure that they will understand us? Here I report on the largest blind experiment of a pretend radio message received on Earth from beyond the solar system. I posted a sequence of about two million binary digits (‘0’ and ‘1’) to the social media that encoded a configuration frame, two slides with mathematical content and four images along with spatial and temporal information about their contents. Six questions were asked that would need to be answered to document the successful decryption of the message. Within a month after the posting, over 300 replies were received in total, including comments and requests for hints, 66 of which contained the correct solutions. About half of the solutions were derived fully independently, the other half profited from public online discussions and spoilers. This experiment demonstrates the power of the world wide web to help interpreting possible future messages from extraterrestrial intelligence and to test the decryptability of our own deliberate interstellar messages.

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Author for correspondence: René Heller, E-mail:
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International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
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