Did you ever make mix tapes of your favourite songs? It was a major hobby of mine, and the songs I included changed constantly. But what if you got to create the mix tape of all mix tapes, one that would last for one billion years?
Extended missions H2
In 1977, NASA launched two Voyager space probes as part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission and they set off on tours of the Solar System. Voyager 1 travelled to Jupiter and Saturn and sent back swathes of scientific data and colour photos in 1979 and 1980. Then it began its ‘Extended Mission’: Voyager 1 is now 19 billion kilometres from earth. In fact it is the furthest human-made object from earth and is no longer in our Solar System. It’s still sending back radio signals and they take 17 hours to reach earth, despite travelling at the speed of light.
Meanwhile Voyager 2 toured past Uranus and Neptune (it is still the only spacecraft to have visited these planets) and is now also approaching the edge of the Solar System. It continues to communicate with Earth and is expected to keep transmitting weak radio signals until at least 2025.
On current estimates, it is going to be about 40 000 years before Voyager 1 goes anywhere near another star (and more than double that for Voyager 2) but they are carrying some very important cargo.
The Golden Records
Attached to the outside, both Voyager 1 and 2 carry a ‘Golden Record’ – a gold-plated copper 33⅓ RPM record.
Carl Sagan and his team created these records in an attempt to encapsulate the essence of earth and humanity for whoever might find them in the future. They were designed to last a billion years.
The Golden Records are effectively time capsules, recording the human experience and life on earth. Who do we think will ever listen to them? Either humans of the future, or intelligent extra-terrestrials.
Humanity in 33⅓ RPM
What’s on the Golden Records? First of all, 116 images (in analogue form). Some are scientific, showing chemical compositions, measures of mass and scale, planets of the Solar System, DNA and human anatomy and reproduction. There are also pictures of animals, plants, landscapes, people from a variety of cultures and examples of human architecture including the Sydney Opera House.
A whole lot of sounds made the cut: surf, wind, thunder, whale song, an elephant’s trumpet, a kiss, laughter, morse code and a mother’s first words to her newborn. (For the record, I reckon they could have chosen a nicer example of that: the baby is crying and the mother says ‘oh come on now’.)
Come and visit
The records include greetings in 55 languages – everything from Ancient Greek and Latin through to the most commonly spoken languages today. Some are very simple: ‘Many greetings and wishes’ in Italian and ‘Please be well’ in Korean. The English message is ‘Hello from the children of planet earth’. My personal favourite is ‘Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time’ in the Chinese dialect Amoy.
There is a written message from Jimmy Carter, then US president:
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 that we may live into yours. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.Jimmy Carter
Last of all there is an eclectic 90-minute music mix including Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode, as well as traditional music from around the world. Sagan requested the Beatles ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and the band happily said yes. Ironically, EMI said no – I guess they had copyright concerns!
I’m never going to know if anyone ever finds or listens to these records but I love the idea that they are out there. The mind boggles imagining a scenario in which aliens try to make sense of us based on these sounds and images.
But the big question is: what would you put on your ultimate mix?