This Is Not an Extraterrestrial Signal. This Is Just a Test.

In the 1997 film “Contact,” Jodie Foster plays an astronomer, Ellie Arroway, who detects an alien radio signal from outer space. Finally, the fictional Dr. Arroway travels through hyperspace to communicate with an alien presence that appears in the form of her dead father.

Now it’s your turn to be Mrs. Foster.

In an act that is part interplanetary performance and part dress rehearsal for an event astronomers hope will one day occur, a coded radio message from Mars will set radio telescopes on Earth on Wednesday.

But it will only be a test.

The reception of this signal is intended to trigger a worldwide game of decryption and decryption, according to astronomers at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, which organized the event and is dedicated to the search for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, mainly in the form of signals. interstellar radio. Anyone can follow along A login space, a website which will host weekly commentary, guesswork and workshops on what it all could mean.

In half a century of eager listening, radio astronomers have yet to hear extraterrestrial signals sent intentionally or accidentally from other civilizations. But there are only about 200 billion stars left in the Milky Way galaxy to comb for life, they say.

The message to be used in Wednesday’s test was designed by a team led by Daniela de Paulis, a media artist and former contemporary dancer who is also a ham radio operator. She is an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute and the Green Bank Observatory, which houses a giant antenna managed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank, West Virginia. Ms. De Paulis’s work focuses on space, and no one will know what she is saying in her message until she deciphers it.

Yes they can.

In 1974, Frank Drake, the father of SETI, designed a message to be transmitted into space by the now-defunct Arecibo radio antenna. It consisted of 1,679 zeros and ones. When arranged in rows and columns, it formed images of a stick man, a DNA helix, numbers, and more. None of Dr. Drake’s colleagues at Cornell University, including Carl Sagan, the famous evangelist of extraterrestrial life, could fully crack it.

Wednesday’s event will kick off with the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a robotic explorer operated on Mars by the European Space Agency. The spacecraft will transmit the coded message at 3 pm Eastern time. A quarter of an hour later, the signal will reach Earth, where three telescopes will be listening to it: the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array in northern California; the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia; and the Medicina Radio Astronomical Station near Bologna, Italy.

Teams from each observatory will process the signal and then share it on the experiment website. And then all earthlings can do it.

“Throughout history, humanity has searched for meaning in powerful and transformative phenomena,” said Ms. de Paulis, in a SETI Institute press release. “Receiving a message from an extraterrestrial civilization would be a profoundly transformative experience for all of humanity.”

Whether Ms de Paulis’s experiment on Wednesday is as transformative remains to be seen. But it will not be the only activity in the next few days dedicated to things that may or may not be from beyond this world.

Following news in recent years that the Pentagon had been investigating reports of unidentified flying objects, NASA appointed a committee to bring scientific standards to the study of what the government prefers to call unidentified anomalous phenomena, or UAPs.

The space agency plans to hold a public meeting on May 31 to discuss the results so far.

Have a week out of this world.