The Chilbolton Crop Circle

Arecibo Satellite

Aracebo Radio Telescope

X-Files explores the mystery of Crop Circles.

Whether they are messages from an Alien intelligence continues to be in dispute, and one of the most intriguing cases is that of the 2001 Chilbolton Crop Circle, regarded as an Extra-Terrestrial  response to our own Radio Message beamed into Space in 1974 by the Arecibo Radio Telescope as part of SETI’s (Institute For The Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) ongoing search for life in the Universe.

The Arecibo Radio Message

The Arecibo message is a 1974 interstellar radio message carrying basic information about humanity and Earth sent to globular star cluster M13 in the hope that extraterrestrial intelligence might receive and decipher it.

The message consisted of 1,679 binary digits, approximately 210 bytes, transmitted at a frequency of 2,380 MHz and modulated by shifting the frequency by 10 Hz, with a power of 450  kW. The “ones” and “zeros” were transmitted by frequency shifting at the rate of 10 bits per second.

The total broadcast was less than three minutes and it is expressed as a Picture constructed using Binary Code revealing the Human Genome, DNA, our position in the Solar System and the instrument (Radio Telescope) use to send it.

The Arecibo Message


The Numbers

The first thing we need to discover in order to interpret the message is how numbers are encoded.

The topmost segment of the message is intended to convey this. The fact that this portion of the message is the first to be transmitted should help identify it as the starting point when decoding it. What we find in this portion of the message are the numbers from one through ten, written in the same binary code in which the message was sent. The pixels marked in red are the binary digits of the numbers, which start with one at the left of the image and count to ten at the right.

Examining the encoded numbers 8, 9, and 10 reveals that when more significant bits are required than fit in a given dimension in the image, they continue in another row or column, starting next to the least significant bit of the previous row or column. The position of the least significant digit is always marked by a one bit, which I will color pink for every number in the message.

The Atoms of Life

Directly below the numbers, which provide the key for interpreting its meaning, are a list of four numbers which give the atomic numbers of the four chemical elements of which DNA is composed, and are the principal components of all of our biological molecules.

From left to right (the same order as we found in the numbers above) we have:

1 Hydrogen
6 Carbon
7 Nitrogen
8 Oxygen
15 Phosphorus

I have colored the one bits representing these elements differently to provide a key to the section immediately below in the message.

The Chemistry of DNA

Group Formula Image
Deoxyribose C5OH7  
Phosphate OP  
Adenine C5H4N5  
Thymine C5H5N2O2  
Cytosine C4H4N3O  
Guanine C5H4N5O  

This portion of the message (which somewhat overlaps the section below in order to save space; I have separated them for clarity, as I will continue to do for subsequent overlapping areas without further mention) assumes you’ve figured out the section above giving the elements of which DNA is composed.

Here, groups of numbers of the same size as the list of elements give the number of atoms of each in the molecular components of DNA, arranged in a representation of the ladder-like structure of backbone and complementary base pairs.

The chemical formula for the molecular components of DNA are then given as shown in the table to the left. To aid in interpreting each encoded formula, the column giving the number of atoms for each element is colored the same as the corresponding column in the list of elements above.

After figuring out the molecules from the encoded formula (which may be difficult, as only the number of atoms of each element is given with no indication of the structure), we can learn more about the overall structure of DNA from where the groups appear in image.

First of all, we observe that the deoxyribose-phosphate sequence is repeated twice on both the left and right sides of the image. To one acquainted with polymers, this suggests the chain may be of arbitrary length, with the basic unit repeating over and over.

The appearance of the identical backbone sequence at both the left and right suggests a ladder-like structure.

If the recipient of the message managed to figure out the structural formula for each of the groups, further investigation of their chemistry would reveal that these were the only pairings possible, and thus suggest DNA was a reliable data storage medium capable of being copied.

The Structure of DNA and Size of the Human Genome

Below the chemistry of DNA is a representation of its double helical structure. This would confirm the interpretation of the molecular components which appear above and slightly overlap this section.

Knowing the molecule forms a helical structure would provide constraints useful in reducing ambiguity in the structure of the component groups, and experimental observation that DNA synthesized from the compounds indicated did indeed form a double helix would form provide strong confirmation its structure had been correctly decoded.

In the middle of the helix is a 32-bit number, oriented along the axis of the helix to suggest it gives the length of the overall molecule.

The number, three billion, gives the approximate number of nucleotides in the human genome.

Human Shape, Size, and Population

Directly below and slightly overlapping the helix, suggesting a relationship between them, is a cartoon depicting a human being. To an extraterrestrial who resembled a human being, this would immediately be read as “They look like us”.

Certainly, to a human, this is one of the most striking components of the message. What an amorphous, jellyfish-like creature living in a sea of liquid nitrogen would make of it is less evident.

To the left of the figure representing the human are the binary digits 1110, representing the number 14, centered near the middle of a bar the same height as the human. (Note that this number is written with the least significant digit at the left, not the bottom.)

The bar suggests (to humans, at least) that the number gives the size of the figure, but then one must decide in what units the size is given.

Since the recipient knows the wavelength on which the message was received, 12.6 centimeters, this provides a convenient scale of measurement. Fourteen of these units is 176 cm, which is just about Frank Drake’s own height. At the right of the figure is another 32-bit number, this one about four billion, intended to give the approximate human population.

Aliens who correctly interpret this will know how large an army to send.

The Solar System

Below the information about human beings is a schematic representation of the Sun and planets, which I’ve colored to make clearer which is which.

The gas giants are all larger than the terrestrial planets, with Jupiter and Saturn indicated as larger than Uranus and Neptune to their right.

Earth appears directly below the figure of the human and is offset in that direction, identifying it as the planet from which the signal originated.

The Antenna

The final item is a representation of Arecibo antenna used to transmit the message, with dimension bars (as used with the human figure) and a number at the very bottom giving its approximate:

Binary 100101111110 or decimal 2430 units of the 12.6 centimeter wavelength of the message. This gives the size of the antenna as 30,618 centimeters, or about 306 meters.

The Chilbolton Reply

27 years later, in 2001, the crop circle phenomenon gained some well-deserved attention when a pattern in the form of a response to the 1974 broadcast appeared right next to Britain’s largest telescope, the Chilbolton, and Observatory, home to the world’s largest fully steerable meteorological radar.

It’s one of the most amazing crop circles to ever appear, regardless of whether you believe it was done by human beings or an extraterrestrial intelligence



                          Chilbolton Crop Circle Reply


The Chilbolton Code formation looks very much like the one broadcast by earthlings in 1974, but there are some differences. As mentioned earlier, the image of the Arecibo Telescope has been replaced by a totally different pattern, and the human has been modified by a stick figure that, while humanoid, has a far larger head.The building block elements now include Silicon, atomic weight 14, in addition to the original elements listed.

There is now an extra strand on the right side of the DNA double-helix, and another, less obvious, change is in the binary coding of the number of nucleotides in DNA itself (in the center). Human genome has 4,293,917,614, or nearly 4.3 billion nucleotide sequences, while the mystery genome sequence has 4,294,966,190, or 1,048,576 (one million) more nucleotide sequences than human DNA.

Finally, the diagram that depicts our solar system has been replaced with another that still has nine worlds, but planets 3 through 5 are lifted, and the last is drawn larger than the others or perhaps represents multiple moons.

At the bottom is the depiction of the Alien instrument (Satellite) used to broadcast the Reply back to us.


If the Code is real, then its unmistakable evidence of Alien life.

This is not universally accepted however with some claiming that the Chilbolton Reply is a hoax or part of a Government Conspiracy…Still others believe that the Chilbolton Circle much like many others, is a genuine example of a communication from intelligent Alien life.

For more information, we’ve included links to Livescience’s take on the Crop Circle phenomenon as well as ‘The Arecibo Reply’ documentary. To stay posted on the latest official news on Alien contact, also check out SETI’s official website below.





Links & Credits

Crop Circle Mystery:

SETI Institute Home Page:




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