Imagine for a moment that it’s 40,000 years
in the future in a solar system far, far, away on a planet thriving with intelligent
life. Extraterrestrial beings inhabit this place. Perhaps they look like the cuddly ET, the
blob, ALF, or maybe even like the dreadlocked beings from Predator; but either way, they
are not human. An approaching speck in space catches the
beings’ eyes (assuming they have them). Upon sending a craft to retrieve it, they
find a probe containing a disk. Using instructions on the disk, they manage
to play it. What they are about to hear and see are the
sounds and images from an ancient alien civilization – 1977 Earth. Flashback about 40 millenia to Cornell University
in Ithaca, New York, Earth in January, 1977. A brilliant, 43 year old professor named Carl
Sagan is the director of the Laboratory of Planetary Studies there. In 1975, he had won the Pulitzer Prize for
his book “The Dragons of Eden,” a dissertation on the evolution of human intelligence. He helped shape the field of exobiology, the
study of the potential for life on other planets. Sagan had also been a key adviser for NASA
dating all the way back to its earliest days. Working out of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, California as a visiting scientist, he helped design and manage several space
exploration missions, including the Mariner 2’s trip to Venus and Viking one & two’s
trips to Mars. Also, in the late 1950s, he was involved in
a plan the U.S. had to nuke the moon. So, when Dr. Sagan received a call to come
to the JPL once again to help NASA, this wasn’t out of the ordinary. But this wasn’t an ordinary mission. In August of 1977, NASA planned on launching
twin unmanned space probes called Voyager 1 & Voyager 2. The probes’ original mission was to explore
and take pictures of the giants of our solar system, Jupiter, Saturn, plus all of their
moons. There was also a hope that if the probe’s
instruments continued to operate, the probes could do the same with Uranus and Neptune. Due to “a rare geometric arrangement of
the outer planets” that only happens every 175 years, all four planets were positioned
perfectly so that a probe launched into space at the proper angle, time, and speed would
be able to pass all of them. Pluto was never part of the mission due to
it being elsewhere in its orbit and not part of this geometric arrangement. The probes were built to last five years,
but there was considerable optimism, that has since proved founded, that they would
last many years more. There was also a possible additional mission-
if all went as planned and they were able to carry it out, they would be the first Earth
crafts to leave our solar system and become interstellar travelers. This is what NASA wanted Dr. Sagan for. In less than nine months, NASA wanted Dr.
Sagan to compile a team and devise a message in case of contact with an extraterrestrial
civilization outside of our solar system, a message that needed to convey what life
was like on Earth and be relatively easily understood by those who receive it. Now, the chances of the probes ever being
found, detected, or recovered by an extraterrestrial civilization are incredibly small. The probes are the size of a small car which
doesn’t even register as a blip in the vastness of the universe. For that matter, the Milky Way itself is barely
a blip on that scale. Additionally, the probes wouldn’t even reach
another planetary system until around 40,000 years into the future. At that point, Voyager 1 will be nearing Gliese
445 and Voyager 2 will be close to Ross 248. Nevertheless, it was decided such a message
should be included, just in case. The decision was made pretty early on that
whatever was sent up there needed to showcase Earth – the sights and sounds of our home
planet. It had to be a “cultural Noah’s Ark with
a shelf life of hundreds of millions of years.” Now, the question was what sights and sounds
exactly? To answer this question, Dr. Sagan compiled
his team. Dr. Frank Drake worked with Sagan on the Pioneer
plaque in 1972, which among other things included the location of Earth, mapping it out via
pulsars. Ann Druyan was a friend of Sagan’s (later,
his wife) and a young scientific novelist. She was put in charge of music selection. Timothy Ferris (at the time, engaged to Druyan)
was a writer for Rolling Stone and would go on to become “the best scientific journalist
of his generation.” He helped picked the images that were to be
included. Jon Lomberg had already been Dr. Sagan’s
artistic collaborator for several years; his job was to bring color and artistic beauty
to what the interstellar beings would see. Finally, there was Linda Sagan, Carl’s wife. She had created the artwork on the Pioneer
plaque and was to help produce this project. Their first order of business was to figure
out how they were going to convey this message. The receptacle for this kind of message had
to last for thousands of years and be simple to play. Drake suggested the old-school technology
of a phonographic record. It was rather simple to play and as long as
the physical record itself was protected, it wouldn’t erode over time. The etchings on a metallic phonographic record
could last, according to estimations, for hundreds of millions of years with very little
degradation. Additionally, they decided to make it a copper
disk coated in gold, further protecting it from magnetic fields and heat, as well as
placing it in a protective aluminum jacket. Coupled with an included needle and cartridge,
an alien civilization would be able to play it. They also decided to design it to run at 16
2/3 revolutions per minute, as opposed to the normal 33 1/3 revolutions. This was done so that they could jam as many
pictures, music, greetings, and information as they could onto the record. In order to make sure the aliens knew what
to do with the disk, needle, and cartridge, symbols were etched in showing how it was
to be used. For instance, to make sure they know what
speed to rotate the record at, this is etched in binary arithmetic expressed as a factor
of the fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom. In order to demonstrate how the pictures are
to be decoded and viewed, the upper right portion of the cover shows the analog signal
that is the start of the picture, and in binary how the first three vertical lines are marked. They further show how many vertical lines
to a picture. On the face is also a carefully chosen picture
of the first picture on the record, for calibration purposes. Next, and possibly the most arduous task,
was to determine what exactly would be on this record. The team wanted the golden record to represent
what life was like on Earth; the sights, sounds, and feelings we encounter every day. After much deliberation, 115 images encoded
in analog form (including a picture of DNA, human anatomy, Olympic sprinters, an African
hut, and a diagram of vertebrate evolution) and an audio “track list” with greetings,
sounds, and music were included. The audio portion began with “Greetings
in 55 languages.” The first greeting, in English, was from then-Secretary
General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim. The rest of the greetings included ones in
Sumerian (“may all be well”), Zulu (“We greet you, great ones. We wish you longevity”), Czech (“Dear Friends,
we wish you the best.”), and even a “whale greeting.” The next audio section was known as “sounds
of Earth.” They included things like a baby crying, a
volcano erupting, birds calling, and a train roaring past. The last audio section was the music, overseen
by Ann Druyan. Among the tracks selected for this section
was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a Pygmy girls’ initiation song from Zaire, Peruvian panpipes
and drums, and “Johnny B. Goode,” by Chuck Berry. Noticeably absent was any song from the Beatles. While the band wanted their hit “Here Comes
the Sun” to be included, they didn’t own the rights to their songs. Their publishing company, EMI, did and they
did not allow it to happen. For everything the team included on this golden
record, probably the most unique – and telling – inclusion was an EEG brain scan of a young
woman, newly in love. That woman turned out to be Ann Druyan. Druyan had planned on going through “a mental
itinerary of the ideas and individuals of history whose memory I hoped to perpetuate,”
as well as thoughts of her fiancé Tim Ferris while being connected to the EEG. But two days before the recording, something
extraordinary happened. She fell in love with Dr. Carl Sagan. Days before, they had shared a rather intimate
phone call where they ruminated about life when they both realized they loved one another. They hadn’t had a single date nor a kiss
or even a romantic moment before this, but they decided to marry, despite them both being
in other relationships. As described by Druyan herself, “It was
a Eureka! moment for both of us—the idea that we could find the perfect match. It was a discovery that has been reaffirmed
in countless ways since.” As for the brain scan, she stated,
“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 August 20, 1977 Voyager 2 lifted off into
space. Voyager 1 joined its twin 16 days later. Over the next four years, they explored and
took snapshots of Jupiter and Saturn. In 1986, Voyager arrived at Uranus. By 1989, it had passed by Neptune. Voyager 1 officially entered interstellar
space on August 25, 2012 and as of July 29, 2019, it is 145.87 AU from Earth. The farthest away of any man-made object. With perhaps as many as 500 billion galaxies
each with billions of stars (for reference the Milky Way has about 300 billion), many
of which have planetary objects orbiting them, it seems absurd to think we are alone in the
universe, especially how relatively recently life popped up on our little rock and how
old the universe is. The Voyager probes will orbit the Milky Way
indefinitely, so you never know. One of them might encounter an intelligent
alien civilization, maybe even long after humans have gone the way of the Dodo bird. And if that day does come when a Voyager Golden
Record is found, first contact may well be dreadlocked Predator-like extraterrestrials
listening to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good.” While it’s a long-shot, as Sagan himself noted,
“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced
spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the
cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” As for US President Jimmy Carter, he had a
message of his own which was placed on the record:
“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. We hope someday, having solved the problems
we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination,
and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.” Bonus Facts:
• In order to allow the recipients to view certain images in color, three consecutive
images were used in these cases, each representing red, green, and blue. In order for them to determine whether they
are calibrating it correctly, a picture of our sun was included. Using the pulsar map to locate it, the aliens
should be able to directly compare our sun’s exact color (which isn’t yellow by the way,
but in the human visible spectrum appears white) with the image included. • As one could imagine, despite the cute
love story between Dr. Sagan and Ann Druyan, there were pretty dire consequences due to
their secret marriage. They both decided not to reveal it to their
partners until the project was completed. But when they eventually did, it led to an
eight year legal battle between Carl and Linda, longer than it took the Voyagers to pass by

Tagged : # # # # # # # # # # # # # #

Dennis Veasley

100 thoughts on “The Celestial Message in a Bottle”

  1. If you're fans of learning interesting things, please do go check out Brilliant: 馃檪

  2. What if another civilization sends a similar message and they collide mid-way. That would definitely count as a cosmic joke.

  3. Considering all the information included on the records, I hope our gift didn't include any form of possible contamination that may be harmful towards the lifeforms and their worlds. We should probably omit that little detail about what humankind excel at XD

  4. At which point, angered by Sagan's arrogance, they send a battle fleet to Earth to issue the death penalty for littering, but due to a miscalculation of scale, the enitre fleet is swallowed by a small dog.

  5. I wonder if Sting ever got thru his messages in all those bottles.

    I bet he burnt the messages and recycled the bottles to buy 10p mixes when he wanted.

  6. Nothing like sending potentially hostile beings a map to our only home, pretty much inviting them to come eat us. Seriously naive move. Awaiting the return of V'ger "to serve man".

  7. Humans: we want to collonise space! Make countries on Mars and other planets! Find aliens!
    Also humans: no unified global government, scared shitless of changes and learning new things, patriotism/nationalism, tribalism. XD

  8. So what WAS the thought that caused an 8-year legal battle between the Sagans? Surely it was made public at some point! Inquiring minds wanna know!

  9. 500 years from the launch. One of the voyagers will stumble back. One of our great grand child will play frisbee with the record. Before long someone realizes we are alone..

  10. The idea of us mere humans "joining an interstellar community" is so profound and meaningful, it made me choke up a bit. Wouldn't it be nice to see us achieve something that big and powerful?
    Take all your gods and little ideas and step aside because THAT would mark mankind down as one of the meaningful and useful civilizations and it would mean we have actually met and communicated with an actual sophisticatedly intelligent lifeform from another place in this endless universe. If you still see someone praying after that, I can't help them…
    It would be a "happily ever after" to all the things we messed up before…

  11. This project is the greatest testament to humanity's intelligence and stupidity at the same time.

  12. An old SNL sketch comes to mind. Steve Martin is playing a psychic making predictions about the future. One of the predictions is that we will receive a message from aliens concerning Voyager. The message: Send more Chuck Berry!

  13. Seeker: Oracle, are we alone in the universe?
    Oracle: Yes
    Seeker: So there's no other life out there?
    Oracle: There is. They're alone too.

  14. Far from the dark expanse in the future…comes a message of hope and interplanetary brotherhood…. at long last an advanced intelligent civilization against all odds has found the Golden Satellite! Joyfully and incredulously they manage to play it for the first time and with wonder they make minor decoding adjustments and discover understanding from it. Moved by such a primitive civilization's noble effort, and on the off chance such a population has survived this many unceasing years into the future… they send back one brief opening reply, intending to the be the catalyst for a new dawn of cooperation and mutual admiration between two brilliantly gifted interplanetary species-

    sEnD N00dz

  15. That UFO crash in Roswell did in fact happen although it did not contain lifeforms. It was simply a celestial message in a bottle they have been decoding in area 51 since. They decided to return the favor and send our own via nasa

  16. We should have sent a video cassette in V.H.S as well…. and maybe another in Betamax…. just to be on the safe side,

  17. A very interesting video. But how did you not mention the Family Portrait photo? Taken on February 14 1990 showing all of the planets, including the "pale blue dot" from the outside looking in. And its complimentary image taken on November 3rd and 16th 2010 by the MESSENGER probe, showing all the planets looking outward.

    And while its not possible any longer, due to the software being removed from the Voyager 1 probe. It would be very fascinating if the last thing it did before the power source expires in 5 or so years was to warm up the camera and send one last image back to Earth. An image of the Sun. Giving us a true perspective on how small we really are in the larger scale of the universe.
    It would be a small dot, about as bright as the full moon, and none of the planets would even be visible. But it would still be incredible to see what our solar system would look like to any aliens who may come across it. Maybe even transmit it back with a farewell message from the probe.

  18. The project is completely over-the-top with basically a negligible chance of ever paying off. It'll either drift in space forever, get sucked into the gravitational pull of a star or gas giant and crushed, or be stuck on an inhabitable planet.
    The whole point isn't utility, but rather making a message. A statement about mankind.
    So basically this was a really expensive space-y art experiment by a bunch of space enthusiasts. (Or rather, one space enthusiast and his circle of friends)

  19. I wonder if something like a digital chirper could have been built in that was solar-powered (if a solar panel could last hundreds of thousands or millions of years). While the solar would be useless in deep space, eventually the probe would approach another solar system, and perhaps even get somewhat close to the star, to where the solar panels could reactivate, charge up a capacitor and then release a series of radio chirps "10011100000111111100000000000" to where a civilization in that solar system would detect the digital chirps and realize there is a lone probe out there they should go discover.

  20. Given that we humans know exactly where this probe will be, the likeliest outcome is that it will be intercepted by us at some future date and auctioned off for a huge amount to a museum.

  21. Those fools. They set up the retrieval of information so difficult that only a civilization as advanced or higher could interpret it….and if the average person here found it, they couldnt figure it out.
    They needed to test the replay on a human of 4 years old and one other primate species as to ease of retrieval. If it wasnt a primate type spiecies who retrieved the disk, it wouldnt make any sense to them…like a record to a dolphin.
    Love makes people stupid.

  22. Actually, originally, Voyager 1 was going to go to Pluto. It was decided a few days before it's encounter with Saturn that they would instead go for a close-up of Titan which meant they had to alter it's course and that made it impossible to get it on track for a Pluto encounter. If they had stayed to the original plan, V1 would have flown by the planet Pluto years before New Horizons

  23. 11:12 But what if these other beings have figured out a way to traverse the universe in a way that it feels small to them and what if they've learned more about the universe and discovered it's a shithole or it's actually something really stupid?

  24. The disk only shows 2 genders? It needs to be recalled, so that can be updated! LOL Some of the better scenes from Star Trek TOS should have been included as a model for what this "community of galactic civilizations" (@11:08)聽could be.

  25. i can just see it one day we find it and the one that have it have no clue what it is and think its something from their gods. we show up and play it and become their gods

  26. This is a totally stupid idea. Dangerous. I can think of a million reasons not to inform potential life of our position and make.

  27. So, true story, the sending out of these two probes with the golden records is how a story I'm writing and need to get back into writing starts. It's on Deviant Art and it is very much an adult story. If anyone cares to read what has been written so far, go check out Let Me Help: An Alien Femdom Love Story. You should be able to find it by checking out the group DeviantArtWorld, show your deviance to the world, clicking on the avatar of the founder and finding the folder Let Me Help on my profile. This is all true and I hope you like it.

  28. Great, we just told Aliens where Earth is and that it's filled with succulent meaty humans. Oh and Earth has gold. Should be enticing for any greedy ET.

  29. I鈥檇 hate to imagine that extraterrestrials found everything we sent out and looked at what we call, 鈥淟ove.鈥 Only for them to see it as weakness if by some chance they only mate due to other factors that we don鈥檛 fully agree or understand. The music and we鈥檝e sent quite a few different styles, genres and from different time periods however might be interesting. To see their reaction to that would be priceless

  30. Believe that the Voyager golden record carried some examples of Classical Music,such as compositions by Beethoven,Chopin,Mozart,and Tchaikovsky,if I,m not mistskened,friends.Whatever,it,s now billions of miles from Earth,going into interstellar space!

  31. It's interesting to note that, in the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk and his crew were also on a five-year mission.

  32. imagine, a few million years in the future, a probe is passing by a planet and is recovered by the people living there. they bring the ancient probe carefully out of orbit and examine it thoroughly. after a few months of analysis, they go "shit, it's voyager, i guess we overtook it. false alarm everyone."

  33. look if they can make antimatter, be immortal inside computers and combine their minds with hive AI then why couldnt they figure out how to operate a 2tb solid state sata disk????? they could just xray the thing to find all the bits and record them with out even powering the thing up

  34. Im sorry but this was a terrible idea. We dont want any high level species coming here and stepping on our ant hill. Whats baffling is Segan knew this!!! The odds of beings coming here in peace are just not in our favor.

  35. How to Pronounce Uranus/ CGP Grey ~ In the original Greek:

  36. Simon, would you believe … this golden disc also contains a song by my great grandmother, famed Indian classical singer Surashri Kesarbai Kerkar. A matter of pride not just for our family but for all of India.
    In this one of many articles, my mother Ila Chury fondly remembers her grandmother.
    And there's much more to read on this …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *