News / Science & Technology

Voyager Carries Gold Record into Interstellar Space

NASA's Golden Record is attached to both  Voyager 1 and 2.
NASA's Golden Record is attached to both Voyager 1 and 2.
Richard Paul
Last weekend, the Voyager spacecraft, launched from Earth in 1977, left the solar system and headed into interstellar space.  As it did, the ship carried an unusual calling card, designed to introduce Earth to any alien being that the Voyager might pass.

Traveling now billions of kilometers out in space are the voices and sounds of humans and animals living on Earth in 1977.  They are bolted to the side of Voyager 1 in the form of a gold-plated phonograph record containing the sounds of our planet.

"The record is a conventional long-playing phonograph record except that it is made of copper and it is covered in gold and then it is put inside a titanium case to protect it,” said Tim Ferris, who mixed the audio that went on the record.

Voyager Carries Gold Record into Interstellar Space
Voyager Carries Gold Record into Interstellar Spacei
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Ferris was one of a small group of people who worked to convince NASA to attach the record to Voyager’s side.  The original idea, according to Annie Druyan, another member of the group, came from astronomer Frank Drake, at the University of California.

“We wanted to convey to the extraterrestrials that we imagined what it was like to be alive in the beautiful Spring of 1977, and it seemed to Frank that at the time that the best way to compress as much information as possible in a very small space was to do it on a phonograph record,” she said.

And there’s plenty of information there.  The record contains greetings in 59 human languages. It has 118 pictures of life on earth, and 27 pieces of music exemplifying the diversity of human creation. 

“There is music on the record from Europe and the United States,” said Ferris.  "But also from Africa, the South Pacific and South America... Georgia, Russia, all these places - China, India."

Shortly after American astronauts returned from space in 1968, NASA released a photograph of the Earth rising from behind the Moon.  According to Margaret Weitekamp, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, that photo deeply touched people like Drake and his partner on the gold record project, the scientist and TV celebrity Carl Sagan.

She said,“Knowing that that picture was taken by a human being I think profoundly changed the thoughts of these people and really made them start thinking about ‘If we are this pale blue dot in this ocean of vastness, then how do we communicate something about who we are?’”

It made them think carefully about how they might convey the greetings, the art and the talent of all humanity…not just the nation that sent the spacecraft up.
“The Voyager record represents a step along a long process of humans realizing that we are not at the center of the universe and that our story is probably far from being the only story,” Ferris said

The technology they used may seem archaic today.  But actually, Weitekamp says it has advantages over some of today’s gadgets.

“It's a really durable technology that has proven to be a great way to record sound," she said. "If you have digital sound, you have to have the right software in order to decode it or it doesn’t work.”

And she says, if a spacecraft were launched today with a message for aliens, it might still be a wise technology to use.  So that’s the medium.  As for the message they chose, Ferris says you couldn’t have picked anything better.

“You can't say that an Indian raga or a piece by Bach or a Japanese Shakuhachi piece ‘means’ something that you can put into words. It is its own end product," he said. "It means really what it is. Similar to things in nature. A flower isn't a way of expressing something else. It is the end product. It is what it is.”

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Comment Sorting
by: Markt
September 20, 2013 7:30 AM
“It's a really durable technology that has proven to be a great way to record sound," she said. "If you have digital sound, you have to have the right software in order to decode it or it doesn’t work.”

Well, I hope any aliens out there, someone owns a phonograph, otherwise its just a gold plated disk...without a record player it still won't work.
In Response

by: Richard Paul from: Washington DC
September 21, 2013 12:40 PM
They actually did include a phonograph. It's not assembled, but they included instructions on how to assemble it.

by: Babu G. Ranganathan
September 19, 2013 10:58 AM
SCIENCE SHOWS THAT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE ETERNAL because it could not have sustained itself eternally due to the law of entropy (increasing energy decay, even in an open system). Einstein showed that space, matter, and time all are physical and all had a beginning. Space even produces particles because it’s actually something, not nothing. Even time had a beginning! Time is not eternal. Popular atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking admits that the universe came from nothing but he believes that nothing became something by a natural process yet to be discovered. That's not rational thinking at all, and it also would be making the effect greater than its cause to say that nothing created something. The beginning had to be of supernatural origin because natural laws and processes do not have the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. What about the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”)? The Higgs boson does not create mass from nothing, but rather it converts energy into mass. Einstein showed that all matter is some form of energy.

The supernatural cannot be proved by science but science points to a supernatural intelligence and power for the origin and order of the universe. Where did God come from? Obviously, unlike the universe, God’s nature doesn’t require a beginning.

EXPLAINING HOW AN AIRPLANE WORKS doesn't mean no one made the airplane. Explaining how life or the universe works doesn't mean there was no Maker behind them. Natural laws may explain how the order in the universe works and operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot explain the origin of that order. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

WHAT IS SCIENCE? Science simply is knowledge based on observation. No one observed the universe coming by chance or by design, by creation or by evolution. These are positions of faith. The issue is which faith the scientific evidence best supports.

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. Bible/Biology)

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
September 19, 2013 1:21 AM
Yes, when we saw a photo taken by an astronaut depicting a small pale dot in the dark vast, we realized that we actually belong to the cosmos and got to be able to reflect on and see ourselves more objectively.

by: Robbie Sagittarius from: Oregon, USA
September 19, 2013 12:38 AM
So what's on side two of the LP?
In Response

by: Flávio Siqueira from: Recife-Brasil
September 24, 2013 2:12 PM
The Aliens will record something on the side "b" and then send the it back to us.

by: PhillyJimi from: Philly
September 19, 2013 12:25 AM
This might of been a big mistake. Did we send out instructions on where to find us, come take over our planet and eat us!
In Response

by: Flávio Siqueira from: Recife-Brasil
September 24, 2013 2:13 PM
I remember a movie that describes this situation.

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