E.T., phone home! New project will see Green Bank Observatory receive simulated message from extraterrestrial life

By Matthew Young, RealWV

When talking to Daniela de Paulis about her latest project, there is only one song that comes to mind…

There’s a starman waiting in the sky… He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds… There’s a starman waiting in the sky… He’s told us not to blow it, ‘cause he knows it’s all worthwhile… He told me… Let the children lose it… Let the children use it… Let all the children boogie…

de Paulis serves as Artist in Residence for both the Green Bank Observatory in Pocahontas County, as well as the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. On Wednesday, de Paulis – along with researchers, scientists, and fellow artists – will be unveiling her latest project, A Sign in Space. 

As explained on seti.org, “This revolutionary presentation of global theater aims to explore the process of decoding and interpreting an extraterrestrial message by engaging the worldwide SETI community, professionals from different fields and the broader public. This process requires global cooperation, bridging a conversation around SETI, space research and society across multiple cultures and areas of expertise.”

“We’ll be live streaming from the Green Bank Telescope control room, and the SETI Institute will be streaming as well,” de Paulis told RealWV on Monday. “The signal arrives around 2:16 p.m. local time. Since we’ll be live streaming, we’ll see the signal come to Earth from an orbiter around Mars.” 

The encoded message will be sent to Earth from the European Space Agency’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), currently in orbit around the planet Mars. According to de Paulis, the message will take approximately 16 minutes to travel the 179 million miles between planets. 

“The signal contains a message that I created together with a few other people – scientists,” de Paulis said. “We’ll ask everyone to try and decode and interpret the message. So we’ll post the data and provide the links [on the SETI Institute’s website] and people will be able to download the data around the world.”

A former performance artist, de Paulis began training as a contemporary dancer in Italy in 1987.  Five years later, she began studying architecture at La Sapienza University. In 1994, de Paulis rekindled her love of the fine arts at Rome’s Accademia di Belle Arti, before eventually earning a Postgraduate Certificate in Education and Art from the University of Greenwich in London, England. 

From 2009 until 2019, de Paulis served as Artist in Residence at the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory in the Netherlands, where she was the principal developer of both Visual Moonbounce technology, as well as Cogito – a device which allows users to transmit their brain waves into space. de Paulis joined the team at Green Bank Observatory in 2021, where she is the recipient of the Baruch Bloomberg Fellowship in Astrobiology. “A Sign in Space” is de Paulis’ first major project since joining the team at Green Bank Observatory. 

“The thought experiment is basically that if we received a message from outer space, would we be able to give it a meaning?” de Paulis said. “How do we give a meaning to something so alien? Every country might see something different in the message.”

Daniela de Paulis.

In addition to the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope and the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array, the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics’ Medicina Radio Astronomical Station, in Medicina, Italy, will also be receiving Wednesday’s message from the cosmos, making it a truly worldwide event. 

All data needed to decode the message is available for download at asignin.space. The event will be co-hosted by the SETI Institute’s Dr. Franck Marchis, and Green Bank Observatory’s Victoria Catlet. The livestream will be available on YouTube beginning at 2:15 (11:15 PDT). 

“I’m convinced that there are other life forms up there, for sure,” de Paulis said, when asked if she believes the day will come when humans are contacted by extraterrestrial life. “I don’t know if they can be called intelligent the way we understand intelligence – maybe their form of intelligence is different from our concept of intelligence.”

“SETI, for example, really focuses on technologically-advanced civilizations – civilizations that communicate using the same tools that we use,” de Paulis added. “We are only searching a very small part of the possible spectrum of options that we would have if we were able to understand what other ways different life forms might use to communicate.”

Projects like “A Sign in Space” are invaluable opportunities to expand our understanding of intelligent communication. So, on Wednesday…

Let all the children boogie…

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