One of my good friends is a scientist, working for some kind of radio telescope organization - I forget the name, but maybe it started with an S? Anyway, she told me that yesterday her team picked up an intense narrowband radio signal, out of the blue, that beamed for around a minute and then disappeared. It was of unknown origin, and their only clue was that it was preceded by a weak telemetry signal from what she described as "a very old spacecraft, one from back in the seventies." It piqued my interest, so I asked her what the mysterious signal said.

This is what she sent me. I'm sure you agree that parts of it appear to have been classified. I'm not sure why that would be...

enter image description here

She told me the team had been working to decode it and they could use the help of a puzzler like me, but I had to promise to keep it a secret. Unfortunately, I've racked my brains and I can't figure this one out, so I've decided it's probably fine to share this with you so you can have a crack at it. In the meantime I should - hang on, there's two strangely dressed people at my door -


Hint #1:

PDP REPORT: Prisoner #24254 "Sciborg" managed to briefly escape federal prison long enough to shout at some patrons in a roadside diner before being caught and re-detained by our agents.

I've just figured out what she was talking about with the spacecraft! They must have gotten the message and replied - they understood the transition, they're using - oh God they're coming back for me -

Hint #2:

PDP REPORT: Prisoner #24254 "Sciborg" has escaped again and was ranting incoherently before being captured.

The plaque, it's all the plaque! They're showing us they understand. The transition state of the molec -

Big Last Hint:

PDP REPORT: Prisoner #24254 "Sciborg" released from federal prison, almost incapable of speech but managed to eke out some words before collapsing.

Isoto - iso... the plaque molec... the particles, prot... that's the key...

  • $\begingroup$ the progression of your lack of ability to speak ... what did they do to you in that prison? $\endgroup$
    – matt
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ @matt terrible things... $\endgroup$
    – Sciborg
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ oh no ... unfortunately i cannot help you escape again $\endgroup$
    – matt
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


This is a nearly (90%) complete answer. The signal is sharing:

The building blocks of life in the universe, and life on earth.

Here's how:

The puzzle is hinting at the Pioneer spacecraft which launched with the Pioneer Plaques, which contain basic information about life on earth.

The key here is the schematic of hydrogen and its transition. The aliens are showing us that they understand what hydrogen is, and in fact understand more than that.

If you read the first set of signals as strings representing different atoms (to make it easier to notate, I'll use + for proton, 0 for neutron, and - for electron)

+ - | + 0 - | + 0 0 - which are Protium | Deuterium | Tritium - isotopes of hydrogen

+ + 0 - - | + + 0 0 - - which are Helium-3 | Helium-4 - isotopes of helium

+ + + 0 0 0 0 - - - which is Lithium-7 - isotope of lithium

This indicates an understanding of atomic structure. The frequencies listed then are the frequencies of the atoms' electrons (I think, don't quote me on that, I know nothing whatsoever about physics or chemistry). So the three frequencies are 1420.405mHz, 8666mHz, and [unknown, I can't figure out what this one is] These three elements are the main three elements created in the Big Bang.

Once they've indicated this understanding, then we can read the second part much more straightforwardly.

The first line is H20, because there are two single protons and one cluster of 8 protons, which are the atomic numbers for those elements. This is water.

The second line is O2, which is oxygen.

The only thing I can't figure out are the times.

  • $\begingroup$ This is the answer, well done! You are completely correct on all counts. The times were simply an Easter egg referencing the famous unexplained "Wow!" radio signal, which occurred from T=0 to T=72s - that's also the "intense narrowband signal" reference - and understanding of that wasn't necessary to solve anything. $\endgroup$
    – Sciborg
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 21:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ kristinalustig is tearing it up today! Nice solution! $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 21:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ thanks :D! @Sciborg this puzzle made me feel SO smart when I finally figured it out, I should show you my scrap paper that I used to figure it out. I went down many garden paths. $\endgroup$
    – kristinalustig
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 21:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kristinalustig I'm so glad you enjoyed it, thank you! :D I was thrilled reading through your answer because you picked up on everything that I was hoping for. $\endgroup$
    – Sciborg
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 21:32

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