6-8 > Astronomy/Space
 Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Astronomy/Space Duration: One class period
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Extraterrestrials

Students will understand the following:
 1 A digital radio message has been electronically transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico. 2 The purpose of the message is to alert any intelligent life in space to the existence of intelligent life on Earth. 3 In order for such a message to be effective, it must show that the senders (humans from Earth) are capable of advanced thinking, but it must not depend on the ability of extraterrestrials to understand any Earth language.

No materials are necessary for this activity. However, a computer with Internet access may be helpful to those students who wish to do optional research.

1. Initiate a class discussion by asking your students if they think there might be intelligent life in space. As your students express their opinions, ask them to back them up with scientific facts or logical reasoning.
2. Tell the class that some scientists believe that extraterrestrial advanced civilizations do exist. Ask students to brainstorm ideas for how we might find and get in touch with other intelligent life in space. Students should understand that because they cannot depend upon any Earth language, they should turn to other forms of communication, such as art, music, or mathematical symbols.
3. When students have shared their ideas, inform them that a digital radio message has already been electronically transmitted into space by the Arecibo radio dish in Puerto Rico.
4. Show them the message transmitted by the Arecibo radio dish, and ask them if they can figure out its significance:
 x x x x x x x x x X X X X x x x x X X X X x x x x
(Write the message on the chalkboard, using squares instead of Xs. Use a larger square for the two rows of larger Xs at the right.)
5. When students have made several guesses about the meaning of the message, explain that it is a diagram of the solar system. The sun is on the right, and the smaller squares represent the nine planets in order. The number of squares in each column represents the relative sizes of the planets, and Earth is given special distinction by being raised above the others.
6. Ask students if they think an alien civilization would be able to decipher the message. Why, or why not? Do students think that even if intelligent aliens could not discover the actual meaning of the message, the message would at least succeed in communicating that it was sent by intelligent beings?
7. Invite students to suppose that they are in charge of extraterrestrial greetings. Divide the class into groups, and ask them to brainstorm ideas about the information or message they would include in an extraterrestrial greeting. How would they translate their greetings into terms appropriate for extraterrestrials?
8. Have each group present its completed message to the class and ask the rest of the class to attempt to decode it.
9. Encourage interested students to do further research on sending greetings into space and preparing to receive greetings from extraterrestrials.

 Encourage older students to tap their most advanced scientific and mathematical knowledge to create their messages.

 Accept all messages submitted by groups that worked cooperatively.