Sunday, 17 November 2013

Interstellar Communication

On p. 161 of Is There Life On Other Worlds? (New York, 1963), Poul Anderson cites the example of interstellar communication that I had cited here from Carl Sagan's Contact:

.    -  .  ._  ..
..   -  .. ._  ....
...  -  .. ._  .....

It should be obvious from the above that - means "plus" and that ._ means "equals".

Anderson continues:

.        1
..       2
...      3
....     4
.....    5
......   6
.......  7
........ 8

Even to anyone unfamiliar with Arabic numerals, it should be obvious that the symbols in the right hand column are the names of the numbers.

11 - 8 HO

Is it also obvious that:

11 means "two atoms of the first element (hydrogen)";
8  means "one atom of the eighth element (oxygen)";
-  means again "plus" or "added to";
HO means "one molecule of the compound (water)?

I find that third example less obvious but I am not a scientist interpreting a radio message from scientists in another planetary system.  

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

And your comments here reminded me of Anderson's story "The Word to Space," about the difficulties Earth scientists, including a Jesuit priest descended from Sherlock Holmes arch enemy, had trying to communicate with aliens after using a system like the one you described. A theocracy ruling the aliens was interested only in trying to convert humans to its faith; and had little interest in talking about science.