If you were to compress a limited amount of information into a record disc with the intention of giving extraterrestrials a gist of what Earthlings are all about, what would you include? It will be sent out deep into space, in the hopes that intelligent life might come across it. Aliens, yes.
It’s been done before, thanks to NASA’s Voyager Program. In 1977, two unmanned spacecraft were launched with the objective of exploring our solar system. Voyager 1 was sent to examine Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 was to examine the outer planets. Both spacecraft have taken photos of the different planets and sent them back via radio waves.
Because of their immense distances from Earth, it takes about 17 hours for the data from Voyager 1 to arrive here, and 13 hours for the information from Voyager 2. Speeding away from us and through the most remote parts of the solar system, Voyager 1 is the farthest manmade object out in space.
Aboard both spacecraft are copies of the Voyager Golden Record (VGR), an album containing “The Sounds of Earth,” images and some basic illustrations depicting how humans look and the location of our planet in the solar system. Each record is placed in an aluminum casing with a cartridge and needle plus instructions on how to play it.
Behind this effort were Dr. Carl Sagan, his wife Linda Salzman Sagan and Dr. Frank Drake. The goal of the record is to impart knowledge that represented the life, culture and diversity on Earth to any intelligent being that happens to pick it up out there. Essentially, it’s a greatest hits record aimed to sum up Earth.
Images and audio are encoded on the record. The track list includes the greeting by the then-secretary of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim, spoken greetings in 55 languages, the sounds of nature, animals and technology (ie. thunder, water, monkeys, birds, machines), and music collected from various eras and geographies (ie. Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a Peruvian wedding song, a Japanese piece for shakuhachi).
Despite the ambition to reach out to our far-flung neighbours in the universe, we must also be warned of its risks. Truth be told, we don’t know what’s out there, and whether or not such entities would be as benevolent as we are.
On the off-chance that the records find their way into the “hands” of intelligent life and they decide to pay Earth a visit, let’s hope that they come in peace. If they come to learn from and educate us, then well and good. Their knowledge and technology would be far more advanced than ours and their assistance would benefit us greatly. If they come to pillage our resources and colonise/destroy us, we won’t stand a chance.