An Answer to Arecibo, or Aliens Are Making Fun of Us

“‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is one of the meanest things that you can say to a blind person.”—Nick Dresden


A Dave and Doug crop circle
A Doug and Dave original.

I love Doug Bower and Dave Chorley. With only some wooden planks and a bit of rope, they have managed to create some of the most incredible and complex works of art that the world has ever seen. And somewhere along the way, these working-class stiffs learned enough about binary code to figure out how to encrypt messages into their creations, and one of them had been dead for more than two years at the time.  Those guys are amazing.

Four impressive crop formations
It’s almost as good as these.

But seriously, the people who think that these things are all the work of a handful of individuals who trespass on peoples’ land late at night, create them in the dark, destroying  crops in the process, and somehow never manage to get caught are delusional. And that doesn’t even take into account how incredibly complex some of these formations are. Sure, some of the ones that are known to have been manmade are pretty impressive, but some of the others have features that go beyond what is reasonable to suggest that a few pranksters could pull off in just a matter of hours. Some contain plants that have had their stalks woven together into thousands of individual braids and/or have had their physical structures altered at a molecular level. Both of these are a wee bit more complex than what you can do with boards and some rope in one night. For instance…

On August 14, 2001, a crop formation appeared in a field within a few hundred feet of the Chilbolton radio telescope in Hampshire, England. This formation was unique in several ways. First, it was a depiction of a face. That was new. Also, it had been made using a “pixel” technique in which swirls of circular flattened and unflattened plants were used to create the image, complete with shading effects that demonstrate a remarkable attention to detail which Doug and Dave’s ghost must have had a hell of a time perfecting. Lastly, it bears some resemblance to the famous (or infamous) “Mars face,” which is either proof that intelligent life once existed on that planet or is merely a trick of light and shadow, depending on who you ask.

Multiple individuals have examined and analyzed these techniques and similarities ad nauseam, including a statistical analysis of how likely it is that hoaxers could have created this formation undetected right outside of a scientific installation equipped with security cameras. I have no intention of going through all of that here. It’s easy enough to find if you’re interested. Instead, I’ll just put the two images side by side and let the pictures speak for themselves. Personally, I don’t see that much of a resemblance, but that doesn’t matter. It’s what happened a few days later that’s really the main focus of this piece.

Mars face and Chilbolton face

Five days after the face appeared, another formation materialized just a few hundred feet from the first. This one was originally dubbed the “Persian Carpet” because of its shape and design, but it only took a couple of days for researchers to discover that this glyph contained a lot more than just a pretty pattern. It was a near perfect replica of the binary coded message that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) had broadcast into deep space from Arecibo, Puerto Rico in 1974, but with some very significant differences.

A binary code is a way of conveying information using only 1s and 0s, and is thus a more universal way of communicating. It can be used to represent both numbers and written language, but in this case they stuck to numbers as well as using it to create illustrations of some pertinent data. You can see the original message as transmitted here, but it’s easier to make out visually if you lay it out as a grid and shade the “pixels” for 1s in black and leave the 0s white.

Arecibo message explanationThe original Arecibo message was created by Frank Drake and Carl Sagan and included mathematical, scientific and astronomical information combined in some instances with pictograms configured in such a way that the information contained within it could be deciphered by any sufficiently advanced intelligence. It was done in this way because, despite what science fiction tells us, creatures on another world wouldn’t likely speak English, and our units of measurement would be meaningless to them. The information contained in this message was basically:

  1. Our base-10 mathematical system.
  2. Atomic numbers of the elements that make up DNA, which are not arbitrary because the atomic number represents the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom of that particular element.
  3. A bunch more stuff about DNA, including its double helix structure and chemical composition.
  4. The population of our planet at the time.
  5. Essentially a stick figure representation of a human, along with our average height (5’9”) based on a wavelength formula that’s way more complicated than I’m prepared to go into.
  6. A chart of our solar system with a rough indication of planet sizes and with emphasis placed on the third one because that’s where we live. Pluto was included because it had not yet been demoted from its planetary status at the time.
  7. And, for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense to me, a depiction of the Arecibo telescope dish that was used to send this message.

The information contained in the Chilbolton formation duplicated this pattern, but they replaced data in the original message with what appears to be information about their own species and solar system.

The first section was unchanged, seeming to indicate that they (whoever “they” are) also use a base-10 mathematical system, which is plausible but not likely. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s no law of science or mathematics which dictates that base-10 is the only, or even the best, way of doing math. But I’ll play dumb and let it go at that.

The elements indicated in the original message also remained the same, but with one addition. Silicon was included in the Chilbolton glyph, apparently indicating that this substance, as well as the others, plays an important role in the DNA of whoever might be responsible for the formation. Naturally, there’s plenty of room for speculation on what this could mean, but expanding upon that will make more sense as we move further along. You’ll see what I mean when we get there.

Chilbolton response formationThe next several differences are in the section that originally contained more specific details about our DNA. The Chilbolton formation contains a third strand of DNA, suggesting a triple helix structure, but only on one side. The information concerning the chemical structure has also been changed, which I don’t find as intriguing as some obviously do. I would tend to expect that. What I do find a bit perplexing is that, upon closer examination, some claim to have found mistakes made by Drake and Sagan in the binary representation of the structure of our DNA in the original message. These could have been simple oversights, but some aren’t willing to concede that. They think that these “mistakes” were made on purpose, but none of them can come up with a convincing argument, even amongst themselves, as to why Drake and Sagan would have done this. That’s a question that we may never find an answer for since Sagan passed away before these alleged mistakes were discovered, and I guess that Dr. Drake hasn’t made himself available for comment on the subject.

For those of you who would like to know more about this, you can find an exhaustive analysis of the DNA information contained in both the Arecibo message and the Chilbolton response here, but be forewarned: when I say exhaustive, I’m not kidding. You’d better have a solid grasp of advanced biology and/or lots of time on your hands before you try to tackle this one. I have none of the above, so I didn’t. To me, it was all just “Blah blah blah DNA, blah blah blah nucleotides,” etc. There’s also all sorts of speculation about what this third strand of DNA could mean beyond just taking at face value that the senders of the response are aliens who have triple helix DNA, but that’s out of my wheelhouse as well.

Arecibo and Chilbolton message comparisonNow we get to the really juicy part that even we non-geneticists can enjoy. It can be clearly seen that the figure of the human has been replaced by a figure that some think might be a representation of the beings that we have dubbed the grays. It might be? I would suggest that there is no way that this could be anything but a gray. Given the restrictions of this sort of low resolution, “pixels”-in-a-field format, I can’t imagine anyone being able to create an image that looks any more like one of them. The code that originally represented the average human height as 5’9” was also changed to 3’4” – about the same height as those who have claimed to have encountered the grays report.

The block to the side of this picture which gave the population of the Earth in 1974 as 4.3 billion was changed to a value of 21.3 billion, which is even more interesting when we move down to what was originally a rough depiction of our solar system. The Chilbolton glyph also shows a sun with nine planets, but this one highlights three planets: the third, fourth and fifth ones, with emphasis on the fifth. This would seem to indicate that these beings exist on three planets of their solar system, with the fifth one either being their original home world or the most populated of the three or both. Some have speculated broadly that this is still a representation of our solar system since the number of planets is the same, but I’m not buying that. There are quite visible differences between the representation of our solar system in the original message and the one depicted in the Chilbolton formation.

I guess that this would be as good a place as any to point out that what the Chilbolton Face has to do with the reply to Arecibo doesn’t seem to be obvious to anyone, beyond lots of vague speculation. There is one individual who insinuates that it all makes perfect sense to him, but since he doesn’t really enlighten us as to why, I’m guessing that he’s only trying to make himself seem smarter than the rest of us simpletons.

Either way, I don’t really concern myself too much with the particulars of the case because I just don’t believe that the Chilbolton formations, or crop formations in general, come from the grays or anyone else on some other world. My suspicions about the intelligences behind UFOs as well as crop formations lean more toward the esoteric than extraterrestrial, although I suppose that it doesn’t necessarily have to be either/or. Who knows the point at which the scientific and the supernatural might converge?

What I find interesting is why someone would want us to believe that they do come from outer space, just like they seem to want us to believe that UFOs are ships from another planet when there is so much compelling evidence that this is not the case. But just to play ET’s advocate, let’s assume for a moment that I’m wrong.

In that spirit, I’ll concede that a silicon-based life form is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility, but it would almost certainly be a very different sort of creature than us or the grays. The reasons for this are complicated, and again, I’m not going to go into the details on this. Suffice it to say that it’s extremely unlikely that our gray friends are silicon-based. And the elements contained in the Arecibo message were only the ones that make up our DNA. It turns out that silicon would be a lousy bonding agent with these other elements. The inclusion of such an unstable ingredient in this formula for DNA just doesn’t make sense. It would be roughly the same as putting regular gas in a diesel engine, i.e., it’s a great way to destroy a perfectly good motor. Adding silicon to our DNA would probably turn us into big piles of rotting goo. Just like aliens from another planet flitting around in our airspace in flying saucers, this cover story seems fabricated to be some sort of intelligence test. Will we take this demonstrably shaky evidence at face value and/or fall so in love with the idea of visitors from another world that we selectively ignore facts and refuse to consider any other possibilities? The true believers in our benevolent space brothers from the Pleiades definitely don’t want to hear my answer to that.

The last discrepancy between the Arecibo and Chilbolton messages is the image at the bottom. In the SETI message, it was a diagram of the Arecibo radio telescope dish. In the Chilbolton formation, it is believed by most to be a rough depiction of the crop formation that appeared near the Chilbolton installation in the very same field just one year earlier in the summer of 2000. It was one of the several fractal types of formations that have shown up on occasion, in this case being a specific kind Chilbolton fractal crop formationof fractal usually referred to as a Sierpenski Sieve. Fractal antennas were a fairly new concept at the time, with the Sierpenski setup being one of the more effective designs. It has been suggested that perhaps this design showing up adjacent to a radio telescope was no accident and that the first actual response to the Arecibo message was to show us what sort of antenna would be best for receiving messages in return. Makes perfect sense…until you think about it.

If aliens from halfway across the galaxy* are actually capable of causing extremely detailed images to appear on the surface of our planet, it really doesn’t seem like getting information from one place to another is one of their biggest problems. Sending someone a message telling them how to get a message from you is redundant…or pointless. Besides, we all know that the grays are from one of the belt stars in the constellation of Orion, not the M13 globular cluster where the Arecibo message was directed. Nice try fellas.

So all of this ends up looking like yet another plausible case of extraterrestrials trying to communicate with us on the surface, but upon closer examination is as unlikely, unscientific and full of holes as Clyde Barrow. Just another dead end in a maze that we haven’t yet figured out how to navigate to get to that cheese. Oh well. I’m used to that by now.

But wait! The whole story has yet to be told. I’ll get to that in a few weeks, but for now, I’m a little burnt out on this topic. This thing was a beast to research. I think that next week I’ll take on something a little less demanding, like numbers that don’t exist even though we couldn’t live without them. That sounds light and bouncy.


*Actually, it’s just a quarter of the galaxy away.

and all the devils are here



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