Weird Alien Communication: How they did it in the old days

Back In My Day, It Was All About The Painted Tarps

Contact with alien life isn’t just a fad of atomic age — people were dabbling in interplanetary communication schemes well before the discovery of radio waves.  These low-tech ideas reflected the giddy times of the 1700’s and 1800’s, when science had advanced enough to reveal that distant planets were worlds like ours, but not advanced enough to show they were lifeless.  Back then, was still possible to imagine that entire alien civilizations existed on other planets (with cities, flying cars, and whatnot) without getting laughed out of the salon.  Or drawing room.  Or dumbwaiter.  (I dunno, I’m not up on my 1700’s architecture.)

The Pythagorean Theorem. Now imagine this image made out of forest.

Gauss, the famous mathematician, supposedly put forth the idea to carve a giant picture of the Pythagorean Theorem (the thing with the triangle that Scarecrow screwed up at the end of the Wizard of Oz) into the Siberian forests.  He planned to draw the triangle out of pine trees, and the surrounding negative space with wheat fields.  He also proposed embellishing the drawing to make it obvious: adding on a square to each side of the triangle immediately reminds the mathematically initiated of one of the many elegant proofs of the theorem, and further confirms the diagram was created by intelligent life.  I guess a square-less right triangle looks too much like one of those naturally-occurring right triangles made of vast tracts of pine trees landlocked in a field of wheat.

"Hi Aliens! Come on down to Earth and sit by our ring of flaming kerosene!"

Later, Joseph Johann von Littrow suggested digging a giant (miles across) circular ditch in the desert, filling it with kerosene, and lighting it ablaze, to signal to aliens our presence.  Because a great way to announce our peaceful desire for contact is an IMMENSE RING OF FIRE.  They’ll think Sauron’s mooning them.  A less-dangerous idea was put forth by Robert Wood, who suggested painting a big black spot on giant strips of cloth, which some poor schlub could unroll and roll back up in succession so as to send a coded message to other planets.  A significantly-more-dangerous idea came from Charles Cros, who suggested using a gigantic mirror to focus sunlight onto the surfaces of other planets, with an intensity strong enough to enable burning a message directly onto that planet’s surface, like an interplanetary magnifying glass wood etching.

If you're going to leave a message on their planet's surface, at least make sure it sends the right message.

Wait, we’d communicate with Martians by burning shit into their planet?  From Earth?  Not cool, bro!  Did he think the Martians would be fine with a fiery death beam from space etching miles-wide graffiti on their towns?  Did he presume there wouldn’t be some collateral damage from unsuspecting Martians sunbathing directly in the path of the beam?  He should have known that if you want to modify the surface of another planet with an image reflective of the values and wisdom of our advanced civilization, you should send a machine up there to draw a penis on the planet’s surface.

I’m imagining the life of a laborer working in the alien communication industry back then was pretty rough.  Talk about a hard way to make a living.  In fact, I think there might be a screenplay in this.  Please indulge me by reading a sneak peek of dialogue from my new script — in this scene, workers attending a yearly convention for the Organization of  Communicators With Aliens Before We Really Have Sufficient Technology To Do So (OCWABWRHSTTDS) are talking shop:

[Schlub 1]:  “So, what do you do?”

[Schlub 2, whose face is covered in soot]:  “I help maintain *cough* Von Littrow’s alien-communication scheme.  *cough*”

[S1]:  “I’m on Wood’s scheme, myself.  I’ve got to roll out a giant tarp with a big black spot on it, 120 times per day.  We’re trying to signal Martians in Morse Code.  Which hasn’t been invented yet.  It’s kinda backbreaking work… I’ve slipped a couple discs bending over this stupid tarp all day.”

[S2]:  “Must be rough.  I have to refill the kerosene in a giant flaming trench.  *cough* “

[S1]:  “Well, at least that must keep you warm for those overnight shifts.”

[S2]:  “It’s in the Sahara.  It gets down to 97 degrees at night.  I don’t have any feeling left in my face.  *cough*”

[S1]:  “Have you met Sergei?  He tends to a perfectly straight row of pine trees in extreme northern Siberia, just in case aliens know what the Pythagorean Theorem is.  He’s in charge of the longer leg, but is hoping someday to move up to handling the hypotenuse.  Of course, he’s run out of wolves to eat, and is now living on pinecones.”

[S2]:  “I thought he was growing wheat, couldn’t he eat that?  *cough*”

[S1]:  “No, they need the wheat for ‘negative space’, whatever that is.”

[S2]:  “Yeah, sounds about right…  So, what would you say to switching careers?  I’m thinking about becoming a textile operator, maybe die a horrible death in a weaving loom accident.  *cough* “

FIN  *cough*

Yes, it’s a work of pure genius, I know.  If you’re like most people, you’re currently thinking how this script is obviously of such high quality that it must be transmitted to aliens immediately.  Let me just finish the remaining 99.6% of the script, and I’ll pass it along to the radio astronomers.  Believe me, we’ve sent worse…

But before we hear about the other strange crap we’ve sent, would you like to hear about the one case where aliens might’ve actually sent us something?


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