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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 14:37 GMT


A cosmic mistake

Humans own up to a cosmic error

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Mankind's first cosmic message, beamed to the stars on Monday, contains two mathematical errors, it has been revealed.

The authors of the message say that the errors could not be corrected before the broadcast.

The cosmic call was only the second intentional interstellar broadcast ever made; in 1974 US radio astronomer Frank Drake sent the first one.

Astronomers Yvan Dutil and Stéphane Dumas of the Defence Research Establishment Valcartier in Canada designed the cosmic message.

They prepared 23 pages of information about the Earth, mathematics, and physics, all coded in symbols that any alien intelligence should be able to decipher.

Wrong symbols

But at two places in the message, they accidentally used the wrong symbol where they should have used the equals sign.

The errors were picked up earlier this month by a computer game programmer Paul Houx, of Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Yvan Dutil has been quoted as saying that he did not sleep for a couple of nights after he was alerted to the problem.

A correction could not be made to the message because the radio telescope due to transmit it, the Evpatoriya observatory in the Ukraine, had no Internet connection; It was therefore impossible to get details of the necessary changes put through before Monday's broadcast.

Paul Houx is worried about the impression the message will leave on alien listeners, saying that we might be judged as a sloppy species by the League of Galactic Civilisations.

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