• Nisha Shetty

The Golden Records: A Message to the Unknown

Nisha Shetty

Two of the Golden Records side by side with one depicting instructions to read the photograph record

In 1977, NASA launched two spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and 2, with two missions in mind. One, to explore outer space, and two, to teach extraterrestrial species all that they need to know about humanity. Carl Sagan and his team were tasked with sending a phonograph record containing images and sounds from the earth that communicated everything of significance on this pale, blue dot which we call home. Voyagers take 17,000 years to cover a distance of 1 light-year. Therefore, scientists estimate that even though there are around 130 potentially habitable planets within 34 light-years of us, Voyager will not be able to find intelligent life, intelligent life will have to find Voyager.

What does it contain?

"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."

— President Jimmy Carter.

An alien which comes across the Golden Record will confront a carefully curated time capsule. It contains:

  • Images of mathematical quantities, human anatomy, DNA, and our solar system. The team chose not to send pictures depicting war, disease, poverty, or religion.

  • Sounds from the earth, including wind, thunder, footsteps, and laughter.

  • Spoken greetings in more than 50 languages. In 2015, NASA uploaded all the audio to Soundcloud.

  • Music, the most notable of which is 'Dark Was the Night' by Blind Willie Johnson, to encompass the loneliness and eeriness of the cosmos, as well as 'Jaat Kahan Ho' by Kesarbai Kerkar. In the song, a mother is asking her daughter to not go out alone as she believes she is too young. But it is sung in a haunting tone because she knows her daughter will leave anyway. Although The Beatles signed up for their music to be sent, they couldn't get the required permission from their record company.

How to decode?

Back in 1977, it wasn't possible to put images on an analog disc, and Voyager's computers could only hold 69 kilobytes of information, not enough for even a single image. So, NASA invented a way to send all that information.

The cover consists of drawings that directs an alien (or a curious human) on how to extract all the contents of the phonograph record. This is an explanation of the Voyager record cover, as provided by NASA.

Where are they now?

Both Voyager 1 and 2 have entered interstellar space, and Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object from the earth. Of the eleven instruments on Voyager 1, five are still functional and continue to send data back to this day. There is insufficient energy to power any of the instruments beyond 2025. It will be 40,000 years before they are closer to a star other than the sun.

Although no aliens have intercepted the probes yet, the hope is that one day they will. These discs could be the only record of humanity after we're all gone.

"There is at least a chance that sometime in the remote future one of the Voyagers will be intercepted and examined. Perhaps the aliens would have no difficulty understanding what is encoded on these golden records... Had we destroyed ourselves since launching Voyager? They might wonder, or had we gone on to greater things? Or, perhaps, the records will never be intercepted. Perhaps no one in 5 billion years will ever come upon them... Far from home, untouched by these remote events, the Voyagers, bearing the memories of a world that is no more, will fly on." - Carl Sagan

Probably, Voyager will outlast all human creations, as well as the earth itself.

Learn more:

https://www.thinglink.com/scene/720422876812935170 ( an interactive way to learn how to decode the messages)


Sources : https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/ https://www.theverge.com/2018/10/30/18037984/golden-record-nasa-image-decode-voyager-1-2 https://www.vox.com/2015/11/11/9702090/voyager-golden-record-pictures

About The Author -

Nisha Shetty, a student in The Brigade School, is an avid reader and amateur writer, and is Klimt Media’s very own Editorial Assistant. She enjoys learning about history, art and science - all through fiction.

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