Nestled in an arid Northern California valley ringed by volcanic mountains, the Hat Creek Radio Observatory is home to 42 six-meter-wide parabolic antennas. Inside the observatory’s visitor center, which is open Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a small, freestanding wooden case that contains, among other items, an Energizer battery, a COVID rapid-test cassette, a blue origami crane, and a lump of coal.
The antenna dishes are there to pick up radio signals from alien civilizations. The case and its contents are there to help make sure our civilization doesn’t self-destruct.
Both are projects of the SETI Institute, a research nonprofit founded in 1984 whose acronym stands for “search for extraterrestrial intelligence.” The antennas, collectively known as the Allen Telescope Array, represent what the institute is best known for: keeping an ear out for signals that might indicate intelligent life beyond Earth.
The wooden case and its contents seem modest compared to the antennas, but they represent something arguably more ambitious. They’re part of the Library of the Great Silence, an artistic project created by SETI artist-in-residence Jonathon Keats. Its stated aim: to “invite beings throughout the universe to collaboratively research planetary futures.”
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Photo by Patrick Shen / Transcendental Media.