By Brandon Keim

Alien-seeking researchers have designed a new, simple code for sending messages into space. To a reasonably clever alien with math skills and a bit of astronomical training, the messages should be easy to decipher.

As of now, Earthlings spend much more time searching for alien radio messages than broadcasting news of ourselves. We know how to do it, but relatively little attention has been paid to “ensuring that a transmitted message will be understandable to an alien listener,” wrote California Institute of Technology geoscientist Michael Busch and Rachel Reddick, a Stanford University physicist, in a study filed online Friday on arXiv.

According to Busch and Reddick, neither the Arecibo message, beamed at star cluster M13 in 1974, nor the Cosmic Calls sent in 1999 and 2003 were tested for decipherability. So the pair devised their own alien-friendly messaging system: Busch invented the code, and Reddick role-played the part of an alien trying to decode it.

Like the earlier codes, Busch’s used radio to send a string of ones and zeroes. But whereas those messages were meant to be translated into pictures, Busch’s code is supposed to be turned into mathematical equations.

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