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The Voyager Golden Record: Humanity’s Message to the Universe

Are we alone in the universe? Explore the Voyager Golden Record's mission to reach out to extraterrestrial life and the legacy it leaves behind.

Are we alone in the universe? It’s a question that has fascinated humans for centuries.

In 1977 a bold step was taken towards finding the answer. A 12-inch golden disc was launched into space, with the hopes of communicating with any form of extra-terrestrial life. On the disc were sounds and images portraying life on planet Earth, along with instructions on how to use it and how to find us.

But what was the purpose of this message? And did anyone ever receive it? Let’s take a closer look at the Voyager Golden Record and its mission to reach out to ET.

Exploring the Possibility of Life Beyond Earth

Last night, I read the following quote, which I found fascinating and chilling at the same time:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

The author of this quote was Carl Sagan, who also happened to be the father of the brainchild this article is based upon. This was completely by chance but made it all the more interesting.

In 1976 a group of scientists led by Carl Sagan were involved in the Voyager mission. The Voyager mission was a program by NASA to send two spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to tour the solar system and its outer planets. While working on this, Carl and his team, who had an intense desire to communicate with any extra-terrestrial life there may be, thought up the Golden Record brainchild.

It was supposed to be a disc that provides a message about our planet and its inhabitants to anyone that might encounter the Voyager spacecraft. You’re likely asking yourself what was with the whole obsession with finding ET back then? Nowadays, most of us are pretty content with being the only known life form in the observable universe. But in the 1970s space exploration was at its peak. With Nasa’s Apollo mission having just successfully sent astronauts to the moon for the first time, the whole point of the Voyager was an aim to advance our understanding of the universe and our place in it.

Most outer planets were relatively unexplored, we had extremely limited information about what they were made up of, their moons and their atmospheres. We were just discovering how little we actually knew. As the voyager was a shot in the dark, the team felt it was important to include a message that could be understood by any extra-terrestrial life it may encounter. They knew how incredibly low the possibility of such an event occurring was, but it was a powerful symbol of our desire to learn and discover the universe.

Making the Golden Record

The voyagers included two 12-inch records. These were nothing like your typical records, they were gold-plated copper and designed to be resistant to corrosion and degradation over time. It was also able to withstand the harsh conditions of space travel, this includes anything from radiation to extreme temperatures and space vacuum.

As well as just its physical durability, its contents were also designed to be durable. The team ensured they included a broad range of sounds and images that would be understandable to any potential extra-terrestrial life that may encounter it.

In addition to the record itself, a stylus, cartridge and a needle were also sent up, in case the stylus needed to be replaced. Instructions on how to use and repair the records were printed on small paper inserts. These included diagrams and images that showed the correct record orientation, along with how to align the stylus with the groove on the record.

There were also some extra details, like how to adjust the playback speed and the volume. And lastly, the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, also attached a message that read the following:

“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. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.”

So, now that we know the goal of the record and how it worked, what were some of the contents that were actually included on the record?

The Contents

The contents of the records were intended to represent human culture, knowledge and history. The team aimed to include a diverse selection of sounds and images that would be meaningful and understandable to any potential life form. They included an overview of human languages, music and art, as well as our understanding of the natural world and the universe.

They also included images and diagrams that illustrated some of the basic principles of human biology, physics and chemistry. The purpose was basically to provide a snapshot of the human civilization in a way for another life form to be able to understand.

Now, enough with the overview, before I include some examples of the actual content, here’s the content in numbers:

  • 116 greetings in 55 different languages, with spoken and written versions.
  • 27 tracks of the different sounds of nature.
  • 1 diagram of the human body.
  • 1 drawing of a human fetus.
  • 115 images of the natural world, including landscapes, animals and plants.
  • 12 diagrams & maps illustrating human knowledge, including a map of Earth’s position in the Milky Way, a diagram of the structure of DNA and illustrations of basic physics and chemistry concepts.
  • 21 recordings of human activities, including the sound of a kiss, a train and a human heartbeat.
  • 90 minutes of music, including work by Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky, Chuck Berry and traditional music from around the world.

On Nasa’s website they have a section dedicated to the Voyager records, here are some of the links that include the contents of the record:

Note: Not all images were included on Nasa’s website due to certain copyright restrictions. The most complete compilation of the record I could find was the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEzcFXRKHUw&ab_channel=beatplaysTV

Although I can not verify if it is entirely accurate, it definitely includes most of the images displayed on Nasa’s website.

Some more excerpts from the record include a greeting by six-year-old Nick Sagan:

And records of Ann Druyan. She was an American author, producer and science communicator who worked closely with her husband Carl Sagan and even had her brain waves recorded and included on the record.

A sampling of Ann Druyan's brain waves, recorded on June 3, 1977. Credits: Nasa Science
A sampling of Ann Druyan’s brain waves, recorded on June 3, 1977. Credits: Nasa Science

While her brainwaves were being recorded, Druyan contemplated various subjects such as the history of Earth, the challenges faced by civilizations, and the experience of falling in love.

The Record Now

Nowadays the record is still travelling through interstellar space, way beyond our solar system. It’s estimated to be more than 14 billion miles away from Earth and is still transmitting signals back here, albeit at a very weak signal strength.

It is expected for it to continuously travel through space indefinitely, serving as a time capsule of humanity’s existence and culture, and could very well outlive us. Although it’s not expected to actually encounter any intelligent extra-terrestrial life, its existence still remains a prominent achievement in human history.

Although the record hurdles on through space, this article has come to an end. If you enjoyed reading this article, it would be out-of-this-world if you could share it with someone you think would find it interesting too!

If you’re looking for more interesting content like this, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter. Because let’s face it, in a world where we’re all just tiny specks in the grand scheme of things, we could all use a little more fresh and thought-provoking perspective on things.

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