On November 16, 1974, the Arecibo radio-telescope in Puerto Rico, transmitted a radio signal to outer space. It was directed at a globular cluster, M13 - a massive cluster of hundreds of thousands of stars, some 25,100 light years away. This was an attempt to communicate with galactic civilizations outside our own galaxy.
Communicating in space:
The Arecibo message consisted of digital information. Laid out in an array of 73 rows by 23 columns, it may appear like the picture above.
The pattern in white, along the top row, defines the binary code used throughout the rest of the message. The second line shows information about the 5 essential elements of which we are made - hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus. The blocks in green and blue and the vertical white block show the special parts that make up DNA, the building blocks of life itself.
Other parts to the left and right of the little red creature, show respectively the average height and population of the creatures here on earth. The yellow line depicts the sun and the relative sizes and positions of its eight planets and dwarf planet. Earth is identified by its displacement in the pattern. The violet radio telescope points to the code in white that shows the size of the telescope.
If the Arecibo message is detected and decoded by a galactic civilization, it will take over 50,000 years before we will receive a reply. If we ever receive one, let's hope it's not the equivalent of a voice-mail message.
More detailed information about our position in the universe was sent in another direction in 1977 on the Voyager mission. A capsule contained a gold recording of sounds here on earth, together with explicit engravings on its gold cover showing our precise location in the solar system.
Communicating in cyberspace:
Much of the advice given to young learners networking in cyberspace is to do with the protection of personal identity. Young networkers, who understand the risks, use a nickname in their communications. They take care not to share personal data such as full name, age, phone number, email address or street address.
Both the Arecibo message and the Voyager information contravene the precautions now recognised to protect personal information when communicating. If these missions were launched today, would we be so willing to share precise details about ourselves as well as our precise location? We'll have to wait a bit to find out what the consequences might bring us.