Commentary
5:00 am
Tue August 27, 2013

Into It: Human Civilization On A Golden Record

Credit NASA / Wikipedia

Carl Sagan is the go-to guy for interstellar greeting cards. During the 1970s, he developed plaques for equipment that NASA thought had the potential of being discovered millions or billions of years in the future.

The most ambitious project was the golden records for the Voyager probes. Sagan was given the daunting task of assembling a guide to all things human. Something that would fit on a standard 12-inch record.

The Voyager crafts investigated Jupiter and Saturn before essentially becoming two messages in a bottle, cast into what Sagan calls the “cosmic ocean.”

With help from RCA, the records’ fine grooves could be read by an included cartridge at 16 2/3 RPM, half the speed of typical vinyl.

Read correctly, the recipient would see 115 images—everything from a simple circle to National Geographic photography and medical x-rays. They'd hear 90 minutes of songs from the likes of Bach and Louis Armstrong. They’d be greeted in ancient and modern languages and soak in the ambient sounds of nature, of crying babies, of singing humpback whales.

The golden records now zoom through space at 35,000 miles per hour. It will be 40,000 years before Voyager 1 approaches another planetary system (Gliese 445 in the Camelopardalis constellation). By then, it will no longer be emitting any signal. It will just be a quiet slice of our world passing through the dark.