Friday, 19 February 2016

22.02.2333 - Arrival

Image source NASA

Distance: 11.98 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

Well, we’ve made it! We have reached the Tau Ceti system. That doesn’t mean that our journey is over – far from it – now our real work begins. And what work that is. The original signal from Tau Ceti provided almost certain proof that intelligent life exists beyond our solar system. The transmissions lasted for 14 years and we still don’t know their content, despite nearly 300 years of research.

The two new signals we’ve received since then have cemented the opinion that something incredible lies within this star system, some 12 light years from Earth. Unlike the first transmission, the research teams back on Earth and I have gleaned some understanding from those later communications.
Now that we are here, I hope that we will learn more about their origin. The fact that the latest transmission lasts for so long before repeating is a cause of concern. It indicates that the message is automated. Combined with the lack of other transmissions, or other observations during our trip, I fear that a cataclysmic event has occurred. A civilisation capable of sending such strong signals should present more electromagnetic activity than what we are currently observing. We’re close enough now that even indirect electromagnetic leakage would be detectable.

Tau Ceti is a smaller and less massive star than our Sun and so the outer regions of the system are much closer compared to our solar system. We have recorded some other differences, the most surprising of which is the lack of an Oort cloud around the star. We’re currently passing through where I’d expect to see an analogue of the Kuiper Belt, but so far we haven’t recorded any meaningful increase in mass in this region.

Our models of stellar system evolution almost always result in some remnants in the form of comets, asteroids and even dust. So far we’ve seen none of the first two and a lower than expected frequency of the third.

Our arrival was fortuitously timed to witness the two outermost planets of the system in resonance in their orbits along our approach vector. This also allowed us to confirm that the theorised planet Tau Ceti h exists and is indeed an ice giant. More than that, we learned that it is not the last planet in the system – there is another which I have imaginatively labelled Tau Ceti i. This is a small gas giant, much smaller than the ones in our solar system at around 10 Earth masses. Both of these planets have several small moons in tight orbits around them.

The Venti probe has operated smoothly on our approach which has allowed me to focus my attention on two key areas. The first is the continued analysis of the first part of the extremely long transmission we’ve recorded. I am now convinced that this first part is the key to unravelling the other two sections.

From that first part, I have extracted what I believe is the basis for the senders’ mathematics and it’s more different than I first thought. What I originally deciphered and believed to be a base 9 number system wasn’t what it first appeared to be. They use a three-dimensional digit, rather than a single number as we do. As such, their basic arithmetic operates more like matrix computation than the linear number system we use.

As well as details of their mathematics, the signal describes a series of logical operations. These are components in transforming numbers like subtraction, addition, multiplication and division. These are functions that we take for granted and are the core to manipulating information, but also present a challenge when trying to communicate how to use them – especially with a species whose number system operates in a different form.

These are fascinating details. I’m still working on the more complex transformations, but even with the little I’ve deciphered so far, it is clear that they have as rich a mathematical landscape as we do.
This is Seb signing off as the first human-built machine in another star system. How cool is that?

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