The Strangely Human Messages We Send To Aliens

Our interstellar communication is as much for us as it is for them

Jaime Green

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Photo by Martin Sattler on Unsplash

I have a tattoo on my leg that is often mistaken for a firework or a sparkler. It’s a long stem leading up from just behind my ankle bone to two-thirds of the way up my calf. Fourteen rays shoot off from the central point of the stem’s top—lines of different lengths, some interrupted into dashes, some paralleled by a second line for part of their length. The only people who know what it means are those who are already familiar with the symbol, at least when they encounter it on my leg. But it was originally designed for viewers who would know even less what to make of it, if they even had the senses to process it.

The symbol is called the pulsar map, a representation of our solar system’s place in the galaxy, cross-referenced against the galactic center and 14 pulsars, each represented by one ray of the seeming starburst of the design. A pulsar is the the remnant of a massive supernova, now a neutron star, rotating at an incredibly high speed. It shoots a powerful beam of radiation that, thanks to its spin, pulses like a metronome, or a lighthouse signal, each to its own rhythm. Here, their distance from Earth is shown in the length of their ray, the frequency of their pulse is shown by a dashed line, and their orientation in the…

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Jaime Green

Writer & editor | BuzzFeed, Brooklyn Magazine, Slate, Longreads, &c.