Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Greetings from Planet Earth

Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 probe was launched from Cape Canaveral on its celebrated mission to Jupiter & Saturn. In the early 80s, Voyager beamed back a treasure trove of data on both planets and their many satellites, including:

  • Io, the most volcanically active body in the solar system

  • Europa, which quite possibly contains under its thin, icy-blue crust, more liquid water than all the oceans of the earth combined

  • and Titan, a mysterious moon of Saturn shrouded in a thick, orange cloud thought to be identical to the atmosphere of primordial earth

  • Though it is long past its life expectancy, Voyager 1 continues to phone home regularly -- from 10 billion miles away.
    From Voyager’s perch, the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion, and the Sun’s planets have faded to invisibility.

    In 2015, Voyager 1 will cross the heliopause, considered by many to be the boundary of our solar system, becoming the first man made object to do so. (Pioneers 10 and 11 preceeded Voyager into the outer solar system, but have not passed the heliopause.) Voyager will then, quite literally, wander the cosmos forever... unless it passes too close to a gravity well... or has a close encounter of another sort:
    [T]he astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake persuaded NASA to attach a gold-plated phonograph record to each of the Voyager spacecraft.

    Containing photographs, natural sounds of Earth and 90 minutes of music from all over our world, the record was intended to preserve something of human culture beyond what an intelligent extraterrestrial, encountering the craft at some far-distant time and place, might infer from the spacecraft itself.

    The information etched into the grooves of the Voyager record is expected to last at least one billion years.
    In addition to musical selections, natural sounds (waves crashing, thunder, wind), and animal sounds (whalesong, birdsong), the record contains greetings in 55 languages. Click here for a precise rundown of the contents. (A CD-Rom issued in the early 90s has, criminally, been allowed to go out of print.)

    Then-President Jimmy Carter recorded the following message:
    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.
    Can I get an "amen?"



    Blogger SeangSTM said...

    Kirk-Unit! I seek the Creator - that which created V'Ger.

    9/5/07, 4:14 PM  
    Blogger Mark G. said...

    Amen. I have a feeling Voyager will outlive humanity, but at least Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" will live on!

    9/5/07, 11:46 PM  

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