The Voyager Golden Record are phonograph records which were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft, which were launched in 1977. They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or far future humans, who may find them. The Voyager spacecraft are not heading towards any particular star, but Voyager 1 will be within 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the Ophiuchus constellation in about 40,000 years.
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.
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.
|“||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 we may live into yours.||”|
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.
The first audio section contains spoken greetings in the following 55 languages, including 4 Chinese dialects (marked with **) and 12 South Asian languages (marked #) listed here in alphabetical order:
The next audio section is devoted to the "sounds of Earth" that include:
Included within the Sounds of Earth audio portion of the Golden Record is a track containing the inspirational message per aspera ad astra in Morse Code. Translated from Latin, it means, through hardships to the stars.
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||Piece||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|
|United States||"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||"Tchakrulo"||Georgian Folk||Radio Moscow||Chorus||2:18|
|Peru||El Cóndor Pasa||Daniel Alomia Robles||Casa de la Cultura, Lima||Panpipes and drum||0:52|
|United States||"Melancholy Blues"||Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven||Jazz||3:05|
|Russia/France/United States||The 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 No.1 in C major||Bach||Glenn Gould||Kevin Doyle||Piano||4:48|
|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 States||Night Chant||Navajo Tribe||Willard Rhodes||0:57|
|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|
|United States||"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"||Blind Willie Johnson||Blind Willie Johnson||Blues||3:15|
|Germany/Hungary||Cavatina from the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130||Beethoven||Budapest String Quartet||String Quartet||6:37|
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.
On February 12, 2010, an interview with Ann Druyan was aired on National Public Radio (NPR) during which the above was explained in more detail.
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.
The records also had the sentence "To the makers of music — all worlds, all times" handwritten on them. Since this was not in the original disc specification, it almost caused their rejection.
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 August 2009, Voyager 1 was over 16.5 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 was well over 13 billion km away and moving at about 3.3 AU per year (approximately 56,000 km/h, or 35,000 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 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."
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.
A CD-ROM was released in 1992 by Warner New Media as a companion to the book Murmurs of Earth (originally published by 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