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What’s on the Voyager Golden Record?
Discover the story of the Voyager Golden Record and find out what went into humankind’s message to the stars.Read More
What’s on the Voyager Golden Record?
It is the first human-made object to have entered interstellar space and the farthest travelled human-made object ever. Upon last check, it’s still out there, travelling at a brisk 17km per second. The item in question? The Voyager 1 space probe, an invaluable piece of machinery that is still providing useful information 40 years after its launch.
But the Voyager 1 isn’t just a probe, it’s also a courier, as is its less-traveled twin, Voyager 2.
Along with all the hardware required to keep it going, the Voyagers also carry a snapshot of our world from 1977, a time capsule of the human race in the form of a golden record.
Now this record isn’t just a musical affair, nor is it the simple vinyl variety that’s been making something of a comeback in recent years. No, the Voyager Golden Record is a unique project that strives to present our species to another, in the event that intelligent alien life will someday find it.
Printed on gold-plated copper, the record has a half-life of 4.468 billion years and contains a treasure trove of content that was carefully selected by a committee chaired by famed astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan.
Contained within are recordings of greetings spoken in 55 different languages, sounds of the Earth, musical scores, an hour-long recording of a human’s brainwaves and 116 images.
The record begins with an introduction by then-Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, spoken in English. Next are greetings in the following 55 different languages:
Sumerian, Arabic, Urdu, Italian, Ila (Zambia), Akkadian, Romanian, Hindi, Nguni, Nyanja, Hittite, French, Vietnamese, Sotho, Swedish, Hebrew, Burmese, Sinhalese, Wu, Ukrainian, Aramaic, Spanish, Greek, Korean, Persian, English, Indonesian, Latin, Armenian, Serbian, Portuguese, Kechua, Japanese, Polish, Luganda, Cantonese, Dutch, Punjabi, Nepali, Amoy (Min dialect), Russian, German, Turkish, Mandarin, Chinese, Marathi, Thai, Bengali, Welsh, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Oriya, Hungarian, Czech and Rajasthani.
The audio samples included on the record are sounds taken from nature, as well as man-made sounds. They include sounds of volcanoes, earthquakes, wind, rain, mud, crickets, birds, frogs, elephants and chimpanzees. Also included are the sounds of a heartbeat, laughter, tools clinking together, a tractor, Morse code, a ship’s horn and a bus, to name a few.
As for the musical elements, the committee selected a broad range of scores and tracks to best represent humankind at that time. From Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, to a Navajo Night Chant, to Chuck Berry’s "Johnny B. Goode", there are a total of 27 musical tracks totalling 90 minutes.
The last piece of audio etched into the record was an hour-long recording of a human’s brainwaves, specifically Carl Sagan’s future wife, writer Ann Druyan.
In an epilogue to Sagan’s final book, Billions & Billions, Druyan described the experience of having her brainwaves recorded:
“Earlier I had asked Carl if those putative extraterrestrials of a billion years from now could conceivably interpret the brain waves of a meditator. Who knows? A billion years is a long, long time, was his reply. On the chance that it might be possible why don't we give it a try?
Two days after our life-changing phone call, I entered a laboratory at Bellevue Hospital in New York City and was hooked up to a computer that turned all the data from my brain and heart into sound. I had a one-hour mental itinerary of the information I wished to convey. I began by thinking about the history of Earth and the life it sustains. To the best of my abilities I tried to think something of the history of ideas and human social organization. I thought about the predicament that our civilization finds itself in and about the violence and poverty that make this planet a hell for so many of its inhabitants. Toward the end I permitted myself a personal statement of what it was like to fall in love.”
Finally, 116 images depicting life on Earth, from nature to human culture, were also included on the record, along with a player and a needle and an aluminum cover with instructions on how to decode the record.
Sagan summed up his experience of putting the Voyager Golden Record together:
"The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”