Launched in 1977, the Voyager I and Voyager II spacecraft are now close to being the first manmade objects to actually leave our solar system and begin traveling interstellar space. While they were here at “home” they furnished scientists with data and images about the outer planets that was completely unprecedented at the time. In fact, they are still very active observers of space, continually sending data back to earth, and are savvy enough to even have their own Twitter feed!
Knowing that these craft would eventually leave our solar system and travel space for eternity, NASA (and Carl Sagan) believed that we should send a friendly “hello” to any intelligent life that may eventually encounter the craft in their journeys. From this concept, the Voyager Golden Records were born. Better thought of as a time capsule of man’s history, the records are not seen as a serious attempt at contacting other life, but they do promote and highlight what is good and virtuous about man.
Each record is literally made of gold and encased in a cover (pictured above) that provide instructions to lifeforms for how to play them. The records would play more like an old vinyl LP than a CD or MP3, mainly because of the technology at the time, but also because any advanced civilization would be able to “downgrade” or backtrack their technology to play it. Do you still have any records or cassettes?
On the right side of the cover, which you can access on the Golden Record site by clicking the images of Voyager to display the image, are instructions on viewing the 116 images available. All you need to do is click on these instructions and a new window will open and you can cycle though the images as they appear on the record, beginning with simple scientific concepts to full color images of nature and humanity.
On the left is what appears to be an old record player. Click this and you will be taken to the sounds of Earth. Starting with a greeting from the Secretary General of the United Nations, these sounds include classical and popular music selections from all cultures to the sounds of nature and greetings from around the world in over 50 languages.
A great use for this site, aside from personal curiosity is to use it as a multimedia portion of a science lesson on the solar system and space exploration. It would also tie in nicely to sociological studies and discussions about how you would determine what is not only representative of the earth and its people, but also what students would choose to include, given the limited amount of space. An exercise could easily include what changes they would make to the contents of a similar Golden Record if one were launched today, almost 36 years after the Voyagers took off.
Also of interest:
Where are Voyagers? – Real time data from NASA that tracks the current location and shows the past trajectory of both Voyager I and Voyager II. Includes interactive “fly along” videos to explore.