As part of the new Breakthrough Initiatives program, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has announced a $1 million USD prize for crafting the best message to represent humanity to potential extraterrestrial contacts.

The message, of which would be transmitted as part of the ‘Breakthrough Message’ phase of the program, where the message would be beamed to stars that would be likely to support civilizations. Astronomer Franklin Drake, one of Breakthrough Initiatives’ members, and pioneering member of earlier searches for extraterrestrial contact, says that they will automatically eliminate anything written in a human language. "Some people have foolishly composed messages in English. Big mistake," Drake warns.

Drake, whom as involved in the development of the messages included in on the Voyager and Pioneer space probes, including their information plaques, offers advice on conveying a message to beings that are unlikely to understand human language. "There are many common reference points. Chemistry, for instance. Through the spectral lines of elements, which are the characteristic fingerprints they leave on the light spectrum, we can give scale – hydrogen’s spectral line could be a common unit of length."

The Breakthrough Initiatives program was announced last week by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking at the Royal Society in London last week, with $100 million in funding from Yuri Milner. Hawking has previously warned that aliens might well be hostile.

It’s possible that aliens–or somebody else–has already responded to a human message, as the Chilbolton Image pictured here is a response to the 1974 Aricibo message sent from the Aricibo radio telescope. Is it a response from aliens, as it appears? The extraordinary intricacy of the crop formation and another nearby has never been explained or duplicated.

You can find a comparison of the Aricibo and Chilbolton messages here.

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