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Voyager Golden Records: A Package for the Extraterrestrial from Planet Earth

BY Gavin Alexander May 3, 2019
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Voyager Golden Records.

Scientist mounting Golden Records on Voyager spacecraft. (JPL / NASA)

It would be a Red Letter Day if alien life is contacted. Motions have been set in place to make this happen but at the very dawn of space exploration it is thought to be hundreds of thousands of years from happening… if at all.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan. (JPL / NASA)

One such motion took place in 1977 when the Voyager Golden Records were launched into the cosmos, two vinyl records which are aboard two spacecraft which launched under the same name. Within the records is a variety of media based on the history of civilization including sounds and images. It is considered a Time Capsule in the sense that it is more likely that humans from the future rather than aliens will find them. Like a message in a bottle, Astronomer Carl Sagan explains it as sending a “…bottle into the cosmic ocean.”

The two spaceships are not destined for anywhere in particular but the most notable of stars – a Goldilocks zone – known as Gliese 445 will be passed in 40,000 years. Needless to say, it is a mission for the future.

Each record is encased in an aluminium casing with a cartridge to play it and a needle. Also, there are instructions on how to use it.

The two sides of the disc 

The Sounds of Earth Record Cover.

The Sounds of Earth Record Cover. (NASA on The Commons / Flickr)

Illustrations

• The two circles on the top left show states of the Hydrogen atom and the movement of the proton and electron.
• The Square below is to do with rendering. If the record is correctly rendered then this should match the first image.
• An image frame with vertical lines.
• Vertically staggered lines.
• A diagram illustrating how pictures are made. Showing video signals and binary codes.
• Binary arithmetic explaining how the record should be played.
• Overall play time of record.
• Pulsar map showing the location of our Sun and the frequency of some pulsars.

The information is very technical, related to the actual playing of the record which holds the majority of the content.

There is also a clock – in a sense – electroplated onto the cover of the record. An extremely clever clock built to last billions of years. It is the element Uranium-238 which has a radioactivity of 0.00026 microcuries to be precise. The Uranium will decay to half of its original radioactivity value in 4.5 billion years meaning this can show the time since launch. Because scientifically speaking, Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.468 billion years.

However, the pulsar map should also be able to show this.

Within the record are images selected by a NASA committee. The aforementioned Carl Sagan chose 115 images in Analog form.

There are some beautiful and bizarre photos on the vinyl. All 116 are in this link.

Also, there are many sounds, music and greetings from fifty-five languages including 5 archaic languages. There is Akkadian, a dead language spoken in the Middle East about six thousand years ago and Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. Here is a translation to English of every greeting:

  • Akkadian– “May all be very well”
  • Amoy (Min dialect)– “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.”
  • Arabic – “Greetings to our friends in the stars. We wish that we will meet you someday.”
  • Aramaic– “Peace”
  • Armenian – “To all those who exist in the universe, greetings.”
  • Bengali – “Hello! Let there be peace everywhere.”
  • Burmese – “Are you well.”
  • Cantonese – “Hi. How are you? Wish you peace, health and happiness.”
  • Czech – “Dear Friends, we wish you the best.”
  • Dutch – “Heartfelt greetings to everyone.”
  • English – “Hello from the children of planet Earth.”
  • French – “Hello everybody.”
  • German – “Heartfelt greetings to all.”
  • Greek – “Greetings to you, whoever you are. We come in friendship to those who are friends.”
  • Gujarati – “Greetings from a human being of the Earth. Please contact.”
  • Hebrew – “Peace.”
  • Hindi – “Greetings from the inhabitants of this world.”
  • Hittite– “Hail.”
  • Hungarian (Magyar) – “We are sending greetings in the Hungarian language to all peace-loving beings in the Universe.”
  • Ila (Zambia)
    “We wish all of you well.”
  • Indonesian
    “Good night ladies and gentlemen. Goodbye(,) and see you next time.”
  • Italian – “Many greetings and wishes.”
  • Japanese– “Hello? How are you?”
  • Kannada (Kanarese)
    “Greetings. On behalf of Kannada-speaking people, ‘good wishes.'”
  • Kechua (Quechua) – “Hello to everybody from this Earth, in Kechua language.”
  • Korean– “How are you?”
  • Latin– “Greetings to you, whoever you are; we have good will towards you and bring peace across space.”
  • Luganda (Ganda) – “Greetings to all peoples of the universe. God give you peace always.”
  • Mandarin Chinese– “Hope everyone’s well. We are thinking about you all. Please come here to visit when you have time.”
  • Marathi– “Greetings. The people of the Earth send their good wishes.”
  • Nepali– “Wishing you a peaceful future from the earthlings.”
  • Nguni (Zulu)– “We greet you, great ones. We wish you longevity”
  • Nyanja– “How are all you people of other planets?”
  • Oriya– “Greetings to the inhabitants of the universe from the third planet Earth of the star Sun.”
  • Persian– “Hello to the residents of far skies.”
  • Polish– “Welcome, creatures from beyond the outer world.”
  • Portuguese– “Peace and happiness to all.”
  • Punjabi– “Welcome home. It is a pleasure to receive you.”
  • Rajasthani– “Hello to everyone. We are happy here and you be happy there.”
  • Romanian – “Greetings to everybody.”
  • Russian – “Greetings! I Welcome You!”
  • Serbian – “We wish you everything good from our planet.”
  • Sinhalese – “Wish You a Long Life.”
  • Sotho (Sesotho)– “We greet you, O great ones.”
  • Spanish– “Hello and greetings to all.”
  • Sumerian – “May all be well.”
  • Swedish – “Greetings from a computer programmer in the little university town of Ithaca on the planet Earth”
  • Telugu – “Greetings. Best wishes from Telugu-speaking people.”
  • Thai – “We in this world send you our goodwill”
  • Turkish – “Dear Turkish-speaking friends, may the honors of the morning be upon your heads.”
  • Ukrainian – “We are sending greetings from our world, wishing you happiness, goodness, good health and many years.”
  • Urdu– “Peace on you. We the inhabitants of this earth send our greetings to you.”
  • Vietnamese – “Sincerely send you our friendly greetings.”
  • Welsh– “Good health to you now and forever.”
  • Wu – “Best wishes to you all.”

There are 90 minutes of music, Eastern and Western classics, as well as traditional songs from all corners of the world, are included. Here is a list of all of the music on the record:

  • Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
  • Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
  • Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
  • Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
  • Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
  • Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
  • “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
  • New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
  • Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
  • Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
  • Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
  • Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
  • Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
  • “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
  • Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
  • Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
  • Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
  • Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
  • Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
  • Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
  • Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
  • (The) Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
  • Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
  • China, Ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
  • India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
  • “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
  • Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

A message from the US President at the time Jimmy Carter and UN Secretary are also included. The former President reads:


“This Voyager spacecraft was constructed by the United States of America. We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit the planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.

We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some–perhaps many–may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:

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.”


Already by 1990 the Voyagers had gone further than Pluto and ultimately outside our solar system. The mission is extremely romantic and symbolic in the sense that it is extremely hopeful that aliens will be able to decipher it. Even for them to even have the correct anatomy and perceptions to operate the device. At this stage it is perhaps better to view the Golden Records as a Time Capsule rather than an attempt of contacting (the) other life. The director of the project Carl Sagan admits that also. But who knows how the future will pan out.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “The Mysterious Wow! Signal: Aliens? A Comet? Or Just a Glitch?“.


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