Weird Alien Communication: The San Marino Scale

The San Marino Scale — “To Serve Man”… oh, now I get it

A common criticism of our attempts to contact alien life has been that we’ll inadvertently reveal to a hostile alien race where we are, what level of technology we’re at (ergo what kind of weapons we may wield), and how best to cook us (hint: broiling makes us dry & gamey).  How can we be sure the recipients of the Pioneer Plaque won’t head our way with a serious appetite and a pepper grinder?  Fortunately for us, Ivan Almar came up with a simple rating system to help us decide whether or not a particular transmission to space will end poorly for us.  For those of you actively involved in the SETI community, calculate your score on Almar’s San Marino Scale before you send, for the sake of our planet’s future.  Won’t you?

The scale: how likely you are to doom Earth by sending that dick pic to Messier 13

Actually, the intent of the San Marino scale is not to calculate our chance of fiery apocalypse via alien invasion — it simply gauges the likelihood that an alien race will detect the signal we send.  A weak, fluttery signal sent to some random spot in space is less likely to be picked up than a manly high-energy beam shot straight at nearby planetary systems.  The scale ranges from 1 (yer puny signal doesn’t even stand out above the background noise, so ain’t nobody gonna hear it), to 10 (you couldn’t get more attention from aliens even if you had kneed Kraaaa-AANG in the balls).  If you’d like to calculate the San Marino score for your transmitter cobbled together in your backyard from an old microwave, head over to the online San Marino Scale Calculator.

But don’t be intimidated, it doesn’t require advanced partial differential equations to produce the score — it’s actually a simple combination of three things.  The final score combines all three to give you the likelihood that you’ll catch someone’s attention:

1)  How many orders of magnitude your signal’s strength is compared to the background radiation from the sun

2)  Obvious artificiality of your message and what you’re aiming it at (e.g. are you building a “beacon” to shine through the galaxy, or are you specifically targeting a suspected inhabited planet?)

3)  Are you holding a t-shirt cannon?  Everybody loves those!

Interestingly, the max rating for the second attribute is this: “Reply to an extraterrestrial signal or message (if they are not yet aware of us)”.  In other words, you get the maximum score if you’re sending an intentional response to a known alien civilization.  If we ever find ourselves in that position, we’ll have bigger things on our mind.  Seems to me, if we’re responding to an obviously alien signal, we can probably dispense with the San Marino scale and focus on the societal upheaval that will result from definitive proof of alien life.


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