Home / Science / The Arecibo Message

The Arecibo Message

By on March 16, 2013 at 4:38 am - 7 Comments


On November 16, 1974, SETI researchers at the Arecibo radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, beamed a message into space. They fired it toward Messier 13, a globular star cluster in the Hercules constellation, which rests 25,000 light years away.

The message, composed by Dr. Frank Drake, Carl Sagan, and other scientists, was conveyed using frequency modulated radio waves, converting it into a three minute binary transmission consisting of roughly 210 bytes.

The transmission produced the following image (sans color):

The Arecibo Message

You can view the actual binary of the image (that is, the 1s and 0s that make it up), right here.

And when decoded, the message provides the following information:

Numbers from 1 to 10:

Arecibo Numbers

The atomic numbers of the elements that form deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA):

Arecibo DNA Elements

The formulas for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA:

Arecibo Nucleotides

The number of nucleotides in DNA, and the double helix structure:

Arecibo DNA double helix

A human figure, the physical dimensions of an average man, and the human population of Earth:

Arecibo human

A representation of the Solar System:

Arecibo solar system

A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimensions of the transmitting antenna dish:

Arecibo satellite

Of course, Messier 13 being 25,000 light years away, we’ll likely never get a response. But perhaps that wasn’t the original intention of the Arecibo message. Instead, we just wanted to demonstrate that, hey, we can shoot encrypted messages into space!

According to Donald Campbell of Cornell University, who worked at the Arecibo Observatory as a research associate in 1974, “It was strictly a symbolic event, to show that we could do it.”

The Arecibo “Answer”

But what if we did receive a response?

Some claim we already have. Now, don’t kill the messenger (ha), but two crop circles popped up on August 21, 2001 near the Chilbolton Observatory in Hampshire, UK.

One resembled a human face, but the other has since been dubbed the “Arecibo answer,” as it contains a format nearly identical to the original 1974 transmission, albeit with a few changes:


Arecibo Response


The response, when decoded, leaves us with several differences: silicon in the elements of DNA, a different DNA double helix shape, the figure of what we would consider an alien (probably of the grey variety), different height and population values, and a scribbly representation of the “alien” means of transmission.

In regards to that final point, a comparison has been drawn between the figure at the end of the message and this crop circle, which appeared in the same field only a year earlier:


Most interestingly, however, is another message encoded within a crop circle (known as the Crabwood formation) that appeared in 2002, also in Hampshire, UK. Keep in mind that I don’t personally buy into crop circles, but I do find these messages nonetheless intriguing.


This particular crop circle contains the image of an extraterrestrial (or what popular culture envisions them to be), along with a circle, or disc, containing yet another binary message.

When decoded using 8-bit binary ASCII code, it reads the following:

“Beware the bearers of FALSE gifts & their BROKEN PROMISES.

Much PAIN but still time.


There is GOOD out there.



Much has been made of this message. A warning? A portent of things to come? Also note the odd capitalization. Is there a message within the message?

Naturally, none of this seems plausible. If extraterrestrial intelligence had the capability to not only respond to our message, but to do so by actually visiting Earth and landing a craft in a field, you’d assume they’d just go ahead and reveal themselves. A crop circle…I’m not so sure that’s the most practical means of communication.

But that’s just how it goes.

What do you think?

Arecibo observatory image credit: Chris Amelung.

About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a freelance writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Follow him on Twitter @Dimentoid or on Google+, and be sure to like Stranger Dimensions on Facebook!

  • Haikuzer

    First off, I’d like to say that Im surprised that you are a crop circle skeptic, of all people, with your obvious fringe interests. I’d urge you to do a bit more research into the complexity of the way the grass is laid in the circles. It’s not simply flattened grass. Many of the circles have extremely complexly woven stalks that are un-broken and still growing. Many farmers say that it appears that the wheat (or what have you) grew that way its whole life. Also the magnetic and energetic fields around and in crop circles are worth studying. One movie that is super informative, although it does have parts that are WAY to out there for me to believe, is Star Dreams. It has some very interesting facts in it that indicate that the majority of crop circles are not man made. Also in regards to your comments on it seeming implausible that an alien species would be broadcasting these signals onto our wheat fields. Well, my counter argument would be that perhaps they know of a way to send information through space at a much more rapid pace than radio waves, which as we know are slow as hell, and that they are using that to send the messages. Being as we dont have any beam/wave/particle technology that can transmit information rapidly over large spaces, and would be unable to receive it due to lack of equipment, it would make the most logical sense to beam it down unto a highly trafficked area in which it would be impossible to miss, like food crops directly next to a SETI dish. They may not be able to travel here so easily or as quick as they can send messages, maybe they are on there way. Who knows, but I do think that this entire case should be looked at through a more serious lens by the world before it gets simply brushed aside as some pranksters playing a hoax. In my opinion, crop circles, and the messages in this particular series of events, are WAY to complex to be some pranksters.

    • Rob Schwarz

      You make some interesting points.

      I honestly haven’t looked into crop circles that much, which I guess is why I said I don’t “buy into” them. I’m not familiar with a lot of the information out there. I do remember hearing about the electromagnetism and other strange anomalies that pop up around crop circles…I don’t know; maybe I should look into it a bit more.

      The idea that crop circles are actually messages being “sent” and not the result of landed crafts is something I’ve never heard before, either, and that’s a pretty compelling possibility.

      Thanks for your comment. I’ll check out that movie and do some more research.

      (Also, I’m not out to discredit or disregard anything, so I’m pretty open about this stuff. Worst case scenario, it’s entertaining. Best case? We learn something we didn’t know before…)

  • Adam Cleaver

    Considering the fact that Pluto is a non-planet and never should have been considered one, I doubt that a representation of the Solar System shot down to us from a distant civilization would have included it. They certainly would be just as aware of the other planetoids or such, whatever they are being called this week, and the fact that Pluto (or at least a ninth “planet,” whatever body in our solar system it was supposed to be representing) was included is pretty specious. The hoaxers were too smart for their own good in this case, as they could not have known at the time that Pluto was just one of many of these dwarfos out in our solar system. Had it been alien in origin it would certainly have included at least 10 satellites of the Sun, that is not only Pluto but also Eris, or perhaps not only Eris but also Pluto. In any event, “they” would certainly have included both. The whole thing is very obviously culturally-bound to humans and was created by same. Busted. Natch, and you’re welcome.

    • Him

      In the terms of Pluto. When we first sent the message out Pluto was still classed as a planet and there for would be added into our message. In the message we got sent back, why would the greys put Pluto in to their solar system. They show us they inhabit the 3rd 4th and 5th planet of thier solar system, where do they even mentiation Pluto?

    • http://timrfox.com Tim Fox

      Pluto is still a planet. It is now a new junior classification, a “Dwarf Planet”.

    • ocerg1111

      I thought it was technically a “kuiper belt object?”

  • Adam Cleaver

    Considering the fact that Pluto is a non-planet and never should have been considered one, I doubt that any “answer” (any answer indeed, let alone one in a crop circle), especially one that altered specifics of our original message, would have left intact a representation of the Solar System which included it (Pluto). The crop circle hoaxers were too smart for their own good in this case, as they would not have known at the time that Pluto was just one of many of these dwarfos out in our solar system. Had it been alien in origin it would certainly have included only the canonical 8 planets, or alternatively at least 10, that is, not only Pluto but also the somewhat more massive Eris, or more logically not only Eris but also Pluto. In this latter scenario, and in any event, “they” would certainly have included both. The whole thing is specious and very obviously culturally-bound to humans and was thus created by same. I’d also be interested to know how the Crabwood aliens managed to learn the English that was encoded in the ASCII, and to also explain the coincidence that this ASCII-English was found in a crop circle found in, where else, England. Languages are obviously based on culture, not science or mathematics, and not even with a vast knowledge of technology beyond our own would they have been able to simply “figure it out.” And, for the sake of argument, had they been able to “figure it out,” they would certainly have been able to use proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization. I’m going to have to go out on a limb here and say “busted.”