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Voyager Golden Record

The Voyager Golden Record is a phonograph record included in the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. It contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. It is intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or far future humans, that may find it. The Voyager spacecraft would take about 40,000 years to reach the distance of the star nearest the Sun, Alpha Centauri at a distance of 4.4 light-years, though neither craft is travelling toward that star.

As the probes are extremely small compared to the vastness of interstellar space, it is extraordinarily unlikely that they will ever be accidentally encountered. If they are ever found by an alien species, it will most likely be far in the future, and thus the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life.

Background

As of 2008, The Voyager spacecraft became 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.

Contents

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, and animal sounds, including the songs of birds and whales. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings in fifty-five languages, and printed messages from President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim.

After NASA had received criticism over the nudity on the Pioneer plaque (line drawings of a naked man and woman), the agency chose not to allow Sagan and his colleagues to include a photograph of a nude man and woman on the record. Instead, only a silhouette of the couple was included.

Here is an excerpt of President Carter's official statement placed on the Voyager spacecraft for its trip outside our solar system, June 16, 1977:

We cast this message into the cosmos… Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some — perhaps many — may have inhabited planets and space faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: We are trying to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, 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.

The 115 images are encoded in analogue form. The remainder of the record is audio, designed to be played at 16⅔ revolutions per minute. It contains spoken greetings in the following 55 languages, listed here in alphabetical order:

The next section is devoted to the "sounds of Earth" that include:

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:

Country Song Author Performer(s) Recorded or collected by Genre of music Length
Germany Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement Bach Munich Bach Orchestra conducted by Karl Richter Chamber orchestra 4:40
Indonesia "Puspawarna" ("Kinds of Flowers") Mangkunegara IV Court gamelan of Pura Paku Alaman directed by K.R.T. Wasitodipuro Robert E. Brown Gamelan 4:43
Senegal Senegalese percussion Charles Duvelle Percussion 2:08
Zaire Pygmy girls' initiation song Colin Turnbull 0:56
Australia "Morning Star" and "Devil Bird" Sandra LeBrun Holmes Aboriginal songs 1:26
Mexico "El Cascabel" Lorenzo Barcelata Antonio Maciel y Las Aguilillas with El Mariachi México de Pepe Villa 3:14
U.S. "Johnny B. Goode" Chuck Berry Chuck Berry Rock and roll 2:03
New Guinea Men's house song Robert MacLennan 1:20
Japan "Tsuru No Sugomori" 《鶴の巣籠り》 ("Crane's Nest") Goro Yamaguchi Shakuhachi 4:51
Germany/Belgium "Gavotte en rondeaux" from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin Bach Arthur Grumiaux Violin 2:55
Austria/Germany Die Zauberflöte, Queen of the Night aria No. 14 Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen Mozart Edda Moser (soprano) from the Bavarian State Opera, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch Opera 2:55
Georgia S.S.R. "Tchakrulo" Radio Moscow Chorus 2:18
Peru Casa de la Cultura, Lima Panpipes and drum 0:52
USA "Melancholy Blues" Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven Jazz 3:05
Azerbaijan S.S.R. "Ugam" Radio Moscow Bagpipes 2:30
Russia/France/USA Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance Stravinsky Columbia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Igor Stravinsky 4:35
Germany/Canada The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1 Bach Glenn Gould Piano 4:48
USA Night Chant Navajo Indians Willard Rhodes 0:57
Germany/United Kingdom Fifth Symphony, First Movement Beethoven Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer 7:20
Bulgaria "Излел е Делю хайдутин" ("Izlel je Delyo Hajdutin") Valya Balkanska Ethel Rain and Martin Koenig Bulgarian traditional song 4:59
United Kingdom "The Fairie Round" from Pavans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs Anthony Holborne David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London 1:17
Solomon Islands Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service Panpipes 1:12
Peru Wedding song John Cohen 0:38
China "Liu Shui" 《流水》 ("Flowing Streams") Bo Ya Kuan P'ing-hu Guqin 7:37
India "Jaat Kahan Ho" Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar Raga Bhairavi 3:30
USA "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" Blind Willie Johnson Blind Willie Johnson Blues 3:15
Germany/Hungary String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130 Beethoven Budapest String Quartet Cavatina 6:37

  • Johann Sebastian Bach is the most represented artist, appearing three times, and, with the addition of two pieces by Beethoven, make Germany the most represented country with five.

Most of the images used on the record (reproduced in black and white), together with information about its compilation, can be found in the 1978 book Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan, F.D. Drake, Ann Druyan, Timothy Ferris, Jon Lomberg, and Linda Salzman. A CD-ROM version was issued by Warner New Media in 1992. Both versions are out of print, but the 1978 edition can be found in many college or public libraries.

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.

Included within the Sounds of Earth audio portion of the Golden Record is a track containing the inspirational message ad astra per aspera in Morse Code. Translated from Latin, it means, through hardships to the stars.

Sagan had originally asked for permission to include "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles' album Abbey Road. While the Beatles favoured it, EMI opposed it and the song was not included.

Materials

The record is constructed of gold-plated copper. There is an ultra-pure sample of the isotope uranium-238 electroplated on the record's cover. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.51 billion years. It is possible that a civilization that encounters the record will be able to use the ratio of remaining uranium to daughter elements to determine the age of the record.

Journey

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 2004. It is now in empty space. In about 40,000 years, it and Voyager 2 will each come to within about 1.7 light-years of two separate stars: Voyager 1 will have approached star AC+79 3888, located in the constellation Ophiuchus; and Voyager 2 will have approached star Ross 248, located in the constellation of Andromeda.

In May 2005, Voyager 1 was 14 billion km from the Sun and traveling at a speed of 3.5 AU per year (approximately 61,000 km/h, or 38,000 mph) while Voyager 2 is about 10.5 billion km away and moving at about 3.13 AU per year (approximately 53,000 km/h, or 33,000 mph).

Voyager 1 has entered the heliosheath, the region beyond the termination shock. The termination shock is where the solar wind, a thin stream of electrically charged gas blowing continuously outward from the Sun, is slowed by pressure from gas between the stars. At the termination shock, the solar wind slows abruptly from its average speed of 300 to 700 km per second (700,000–1,500,000 miles per hour) and becomes denser and hotter.

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."

Appearances in fiction

  • The motion picture Starman portrayed the Voyager Golden Record as having been located by an extraterrestrial intelligence who subsequently sent one of their own race to investigate intelligent life on Earth (but they exchanged "Johnny B. Goode" with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones).
  • Voyager and its record appear in the episode entitled "Parasites Lost" of the animated television series Futurama. Leela scrapes the spacecraft off her ship's windshield while stopped at a galactic "truck stop".
  • In the Transformers series Beast Wars, the Golden Disk stolen by the Predacons was in fact the Voyager Record. This disk was prized by the Transformer race, as it alone told the location of Earth and thus a plentiful source of Energon. The disk also contained a secret message from the original Megatron. The record was destroyed by Dinobot to prevent the Predacon Megatron from having the ability to change the future. However, Megatron recovered a piece of the disk, so that the Decepticon-turned-Predacon Ravage would join his side after watching the message left by his former commander.
  • In a Saturday Night Live segment, Father Guido Sarducci announced that the first message from extraterrestrials was being received. Once decoded, the message stated, "Send more Chuck Berry."
  • While parts of the record cover appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as part of V'ger, the record itself was apparently not placed on the fictional Voyager 6 probe.
  • In the X-Files episode "Little Green Men", Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 can be heard whilst characters discuss the Golden Record.
  • In an episode of The West Wing, "The Warfare of Genghis Khan", Josh Lyman mentions the Golden Record (though not by name) through a reference to Blind Willie Johnson.
  • In an episode of Pinky and the Brain, Brain changes the design of the Golden Disk so that it shows his and Pinky's body as that of the leaders of Earth. When aliens intercept the disk, they capture Pinky and Brain as pets, thinking them to be the leaders of Earth.
  • Canadian experimental writer Darren Wershler-Henry in his poem the tapeworm foundry Andor the dangerous prevalence of imagination conceives the following avant-garde prank: "Design a faster than light spacecraft and then overtake the Voyager II probe for the sole purpose of replacing the gold LP of the second Brandenburg concerto with a copy of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars."
  • In the Sci-Fi book Battlefield Earth, it is noted that the Psyclo race came to Earth after they found the valuable golden metal plate - followed by the destruction of the planet.
  • In Warren Fu's Kubrick-esque music video for The Strokes’ "You Only Live Once", a spacecraft leaves Earth for Sirius with a golden record containing the band's song and graphics and images of: greetings in different human languages; human evolution; human biology; the structure of DNA; and human reproduction. At the end of the film, the text "1977 A.D." precedes the end title, an allusion to Voyager's launch (August 1977) and Fu's involvement in another landmark science fiction series, Star Wars, which came to theatres May 1977.
  • There is also an episode of Space: 1999 entitled, "Voyager's Return". The probe is discovered hurtling toward the Moon. During an attempt to retrieve the wealth of information, an alien race traces the probe and its creators, and offers them death.

Availability of the CD-ROM version of the Golden Record

A CD-ROM was released in 1992 by Warner New Media as a companion to the book Murmurs of the Earth (Random House, 1978) which documented and catalogued the creation and contents of the Golden Record. The CD-ROM was the result of Sagan's diligence in obtaining copyright clearances for many of the numerous musical passages and photographs that the original Golden Record contained, to allow for their inclusion in the Warner New Media release. Both the book and the companion CD-ROM are no longer published, although used copies may still be found. Further information is available at: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/faq.html

See also

References

  • Originally based on public domain text from the NASA website, where selected images and sounds from the record can be found. However, much of the material from the Voyager records is available in compiled form only to extraterrestrials for copyright reasons.

External links

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