What is it?

I’m drawn to the quixotic, heroic, foolish, brilliant attempts to contact aliens. The most thought-out transmissions are self-evident jewel boxes, Rosetta Stones meant to be parseable by anything that knows binary and prime numbers.

Most of these “messages to extraterrestrial intelligences” (METI) take the form of pixel art, if you will–grids of binary image data that contain glyphs, meant to be a universal version of our written languages; built up with constants that we believe universal, such as primes or the material properties of elements.

“Iteration (Transmission IV)” focuses on the “Cosmic Call,” a message sent to nine nearby stars in 1999 and 2003 from a radio telescope in Evpatoria, Ukraine, and underwritten by a startup in Texas that went belly-up in 2004.

“Cosmic Call” included the “Dumas-Dutil message,” composed by two physicists. This message builds up an understanding of our solar system, our species, and asks questions of the recipient. Its first version also had some typos, later fixed.

It seems so human to build fantastically complicated radio telescopes and interstellar spacecraft and use them to send big, thoughtful messages addressed to the universe that have typos. Messages that assume that the recipients are like us, visual creatures who understand grids of information. With languages that use visual symbols. And that the recipients have a 5.01GHz frequency-shift keying radio powered on and listening at just the right moment.

It’s entirely possible that this approach will work. The first stars should receive it in 2036; a similar reply would reach us around 2069.

This piece shows the stars towards which “Cosmic Call” was sent, as well as modified “Truchet tile” renderings of them, which appear both synthetic and imperfect–a blend of technology and human touch.


What, where, when


Care and Feeding








    Cosmic Call

    Transmission IV-VI

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