Voyager Golden Record
The Voyager Golden Record is a gramophone record, attached to the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977, containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. It is intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form that may find it. The Voyagers will take about 40,000 years to come close to another star, hence if the other beings do not come our way to meet them, it will take at least that long before the Golden Record is found.
As the probe it is attached to is relatively small and hard to see, it is difficult to assess the likelihood of discovery of the probe in the long term— it depends upon where it ends up. If it is found, and not destroyed, it is certain that it will take a very long time in human terms, and thus the record is a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to enter a dialogue with aliens.
The Voyager spacecraft will be the third and fourth human artifacts to escape entirely from the solar system. Pioneers 10 and 11, which were launched in 1972 and 1973 and preceded Voyager in outstripping the gravitational attraction of the Sun, both carried small metal plaques identifying their time and place of origin for the benefit of any other spacefarers that might find them in the distant future.
With this example before them, NASA placed a more comprehensive (and eclectic) message aboard Voyager 1 and 2 – a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.
This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. — U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
The Voyager message is carried by the Voyager Golden Record; a 30 cm (12-inch approx.) gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played.
An ultra-pure sample of uranium-238 is electroplated onto the cover. It is intended that analysis of the decay products of the uranium will provide a reference for the time of manufacture (in very rough terms - the half-life of uranium-238 is around 4.5 billion years).
Cover of the Voyager Golden Record.
The Voyager Golden Record.
Recording cover diagram
The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.
The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16⅔ revolutions per minute. It contains the spoken greetings, beginning with Akkadian, which was spoken in Sumer about six thousand years ago, and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect.
Following the section on the sounds of Earth, there is an eclectic 90-minute selection of music from many cultures, including Eastern and Western classics. The selections include:
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, passed the orbit of Pluto in 1990, and left the solar system (in the sense of passing the termination shock) in November 2003. It is now in empty space, with forty thousand years expected to elapse before it or Voyager 2 makes a close approach to any other solar system.
As Carl Sagan has noted, "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet."
Some others suggest however that the only civilisation that will encounter it will be our own, when in a few hundred years it is retrieved and placed into a space museum, possibly somewhere on the moon.
Most of the images used on the record (reproduced in black and white), together with information about its compilation, can be found in the book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan, F.D. Drake, Ann Druyan, Timothy Ferris, Jon Lomberg and Linda Salzman (1978), ISBN 0394410475 (hardcover); ISBN 0345283961 (paperback). A CD-ROM version was issued by Warner New Media in 1992.
In July, 1983, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the 45-minute documentary Music from a Small Planet, in which Sagan and Druyan explained the process of selecting music for the record and introduced excerpts. It was not clear whether this was an original BBC documentary or an imported NPR production.
Appearances in fiction
The motion picture Starman portrayed the Voyager Golden Record as having been located by an extra-terrestial intelligence who subsequently sent one of their own race to investigate intelligent life on Earth.
In the Transformers series Beast Wars, the fabled "Golden Disks" the Predacon group holds are the Voyager Records. These disks were prized by the Transformer race, as it alone told the location of Earth. This was 'spelled out' later in the series, although a close examination of the discs in earlier episodes made it clear as well.
- Originally based on public domain text from the NASA Website, where selected images and sounds from the record can be found. Much of the Voyager records, however, is only available in compiled form to extraterrestrials for copyright reasons.
- Time capsule
- Arecibo message, sent from the Arecibo radiotelescope to inform extraterrestrials about Earth.
- Pioneer plaque — forerunner to the Voyager record; article gives a fuller treatment to interpretation of the plaque's message
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