Decoding the Arecibo Message

Initializing live version
Download to Desktop

Requires a Wolfram Notebook System

Interact on desktop, mobile and cloud with the free Wolfram Player or other Wolfram Language products.

In 1974 a message was beamed from the Arecibo radio telescope towards a cluster of stars 25,000 light years distant in the constellation of Hercules. It consisted of 1679 binary digits transmitted in sequence. To read the message, the binary digits must be formed into a low resolution image on a two dimensional grid. But what sized grid should be used? Use the slider control to vary the number of columns in the grid and "decode" the Arecibo message.

Contributed by: Andrew Read (February 2009)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



The total number of bits in the message, 1679, is the product of two primes: 23 and 73. So there are only two "logical" ways to arrange the grid. The correct arrangement has 23 columns and 73 rows. The message itself includes graphic representations of a human, the solar system, and the Arecibo radio telescope, as well as scientific references to the composition and structure of DNA.

Feedback (field required)
Email (field required) Name
Occupation Organization
Note: Your message & contact information may be shared with the author of any specific Demonstration for which you give feedback.