As part of the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder series, they showed the 1997 film Contact. It was introduced by Adam Rutherford and Brian Cox and the context they gave the film made it an interesting experience. They discussed the Arecibo message that was sent out into space in 1974 telling anyone in the universe who wanted to listen that we are here. They had a slide of the message on the screen behind them and it was interesting how relatively simple it was (including a DNA strand, numbers and a representation of the human form). I’m sure this was just one part of it, and other messages have gone out since with slightly different content, but the universal content (mathematics and the building blocks of the universe) remain constant. Two things I took away from this discussion:

•We are now able to identify whether a planet has life by investigating its atmosphere. It’s one thing to find the essential elements to support life, but if you find CFCs (or something similar), you know that a technological civilisation has existed
•We aren’t consistently listening for anyone who might be answering us so we could have missed contact

However, the consensus was that it is unlikely that there is intelligent life out there – but then there was that unexplained 3 minute burst of radio noise in the 70s – on the frequency they think is the most likely for us to make contact …..