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MY father and I were talking about sci-fi stories we've read over the years. He asked if I had ever read

"that one about those astronauts on the moon, or maybe Mars?. I don't remember much, except these astronaut guys discover this piece of alien technology laying there on the ground, conspicuously unmarred and free of the all-pervading Martian (or perhaps lunar) dust, emitting a ringing or buzzing sound that could be heard through their suits and the vaccum of space or whatever."

I suppose there was some back and forth dialogue between these cosmic pioneers and maybe even a dash of Mission Control piping in with their two cents from back on Terra Firma for flavor. However the details played out, human nature being what it is, these astronauts eventually reached down, said 'screw it,' and found the balls to pick it up.

The sound (signal?) stopped immediately. The artifact--I think he said it was box shaped and metallic--was some type of "Those crazy-ass hairless apes finally managed to crawl off their rock" detection system. So long as the insane little chimps were swinging from limb to limb, clubbing each other over the heads down on Mother Earth, the signal kept pulsing steadily out into space towards whatever planet these mysterious extraterrestrials called home sweet home.

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    I've taken the liberty of removing a lot of the "chatter" in your question. Amusing but utterly irrelevant. – Valorum Mar 7 '17 at 12:27
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    I'll try to be more succinct next time. Too much caffeine before sunrise. – Winston Aarron Webb Mar 7 '17 at 13:57
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    Narrative is fine. Narrative that represents over 50% of the question is less fine. – Valorum Mar 7 '17 at 14:10
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    @Valorum: I'm glad you commented on what you've done. The original (though I agree needed editing) was a fun read. :) – Chris Mar 7 '17 at 14:49
  • Welcome to [sci-fi.se], by the way. I hope you'll stick around. – SQB Mar 8 '17 at 6:35
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You're describing "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke, the story that became the foundation for the moon sequence in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Per wikipedia

The story deals with the discovery of an artifact on Earth's Moon left behind eons ago by ancient aliens. The object is made of a polished mineral, is tetrahedral in shape, and is surrounded by a spherical forcefield. The narrator speculates at one point that the mysterious aliens who left this structure on the Moon may have used mechanisms belonging "to a technology that lies beyond our horizons, perhaps to the technology of para-physical forces."

The narrator speculates that for millions of years (evidenced by dust buildup around its forcefield) the artifact has been transmitting signals into deep space, but it ceases to transmit when, sometime later, it is destroyed "with the savage might of atomic power". The narrator hypothesizes that this "sentinel" was left on the moon as a "warning beacon" for possible intelligent and spacefaring species that might develop on Earth.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the operation of the sentinel is activated when sunlight touches it for the first time after it was dug up.

You can read it online here.

  • You can also read it here or here. – user14111 Mar 7 '17 at 12:51
  • Thanks for the answer. I woke up and just had to know the name of that story. – Winston Aarron Webb Mar 7 '17 at 13:59
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    Perhaps OT, but I always found it odd that there was one on the Moon and another at Jupiter. If the aliens are setting a barrier we need to cross before we're worthy, the Moon is good enough. It took two million years to get there, the extra 10 or so to Jupiter seems wasted. – Maury Markowitz Mar 7 '17 at 21:43
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    @MauryMarkowitz - That's answered in another couple of questions. – Valorum Mar 7 '17 at 21:48
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While this could be "The Sentinel", another possibility is 2001: A Space Odyssey, the better known work that the short story grew into. It's both a film by Stanley Kubrick and a book by Arthur C. Clarke, developed together.

The object is known as TMA-1, for Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One.

"The first party discovered nothing - just the usual level terrain, buried beneath a very thin layer of moon-dust. They sank a drill in the exact center of the magnetic field to get a core sample for study. Twenty feet down, the drill stopped. So the survey party started to dig - not an easy job in spacesuits, as I can assure you.
"What they found brought them back to Base in a hurry. We sent out a bigger team, with better equipment. They excavated for two weeks - with the result you know."

(...)

The object before which the spacesuited man was posing was a vertical slab of jet-black material, about ten feet high and five feet wide: it reminded Floyd, somewhat ominously, of a giant tombstone. Perfectly sharp-edged and symmetrical, it was so black it seemed to have swallowed up the light falling upon it; there was no surface detail at all. It was impossible to tell whether it was made of stone or metal or plastic - or some material altogether unknown to man.

(...)

"You see, it is approximately three million years old. What you are now looking at is the first evidence of intelligent life beyond the Earth."

When fully excavated and touched by the sun for the first time, it sends out a "piercing electronic shriek".

Floyd was still musing over these thoughts when his helmet speaker suddenly emitted a piercing electronic shriek, like a hideously overloaded and distorted time signal. Involuntarily, he tried to block his ears with his spacesuited hands; then he recovered and groped frantically for the gain control of his receiver. While he was still fumbling four more of the shrieks blasted out of the ether; then there was a merciful silence.
All around the crater, figures were standing in attitudes of paralyzed astonishment. So it's nothing wrong with my gear, Floyd told himself; everyone heard those piercing electronic screams.
After three million years of darkness, TMA-1 had greeted the lunar dawn.

  • No, I think "The Sentinel" is the right answer. The alien artifact in "The Sentinel" was above ground, and strangely dust-free: "Yet the dust and the meteor scratches ended quite abruptly in a wide circle enclosing the little pyramid, as though an invisible wall was protecting it from the ravages of time and the slow but ceaseless bombardment from space." Which matches something in the OP's description. – user14111 Mar 7 '17 at 13:19
  • @user14111 true. What made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than "The Sentinel" was the sound emitted. I'll edit my answer to not dismiss "The Sentinel" outright. – SQB Mar 7 '17 at 13:21

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