Yamaha origami

Interplanetary Britpop

Today, Mars probe “Beagle 2” landed on the red planet — but no-one is yet sure if it arrived intact and functional. As the BBC wrote a few days ago, a Mars landing is a pretty dicey affair. To figure out if the Beagle 2 is operating, the British scientists who created the probe designed it to send a signal back to Earth — so right now, they’re anxiously sitting by the radio telescopes waiting to hear it.

The signal? According to the BBC:

Confirmation of a safe landing would come in the form of a nine-note musical signal from the craft, written by the British pop band Blur.

Okay, that officially — and quite precisely — rocks. Apparently, the Blur guys are quite the math geeks, because in an interview with The Scotsman, the bass player Alex James explained that their tune was based on the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical pattern that occurs in nature, and in which each number is the sum of the previous two. The sequence goes like this: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, etc. The pattern can be spied in everything from the spirals of sea shells to the shape of pine cones.

As James put it:

“We were given a lot less limitations doing Beagle 2 than you get in a standard music industry contract. It didn’t have to be catchy or anything.”

Blur actually used the tune on the B-side of their single “No Distance Left to Run”.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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