The Final Frontier

Recently, I’ve started thinking about space–the edges of our knowledge, the grounds that we’re covering now, the vast amount that lays undiscovered. Somewhere, hurtling through the edge of the solar system–basically still on our doorstep when compared to the size of the universe–the Voyager 1 flies at 35,000 mph, the farthest a man-made object has ever made it. That, by itself is amazing. The Voyager 1 is our first insight into what really lies beyond our solar system. You may have heard of the Golden Record, a large gold disc on the Voyager 1 that’s intended to be a brief introduction to humanity.

Voyager-Golden-Record.jpg

That begs the question: how do you even begin to encapsulate humanity? What does it mean to be human? Who gets to decide this? A small committee headed by Carl Sagan were entrusted with creating a time capsule that could last up to a billion years. The items chosen do speak to the heart of life, in my opinion. Included are things like a mother’s cry, greetings in all sorts of languages, and music from different countries and time periods.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFo8-JqzSCM

America’s song: Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode

Voyager_golden_record_77_supermarket

One of the pictures on the record: a woman in a supermarket

Voyager_Golden_Record_36_group_of_children

Another photo, one of a group of children.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about the Golden Record is that it contains the compressed brainwaves of someone in love. Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan fell in love working on this project and in the spur of the moment, she had her brainwaves read and put on the record. They then stayed together until Carl Sagan’s death in 1996.

“My feelings as a 27-year-old woman, madly fallen in love, they’re on that record. It’s forever. It’ll be true 100 million years from now.”Ann Druyan

The Pale Blue Dot -- the frame from the Voyager family portrait that includes the Earth [Image: NASA].

“Pale blue dot”: the last photo taken by Voyager 1. Carl Sagan convinced them to turn the cameras and take one last photo of Earth.

Of course, what’s on that record is just a small group’s ideas several decades ago. The world has changed–and a modern Golden Record would probably contain different things and different images. This leads me to a question I pose to you as well: what would you put on one?

It’s hard to say for myself, personally. I think one of my first choices would be the first picture of a molecule.

Pentacene molecule image (IBM)

In 2009, IBM took the first detailed picture of a molecule. This is a relatively new, cool scientific discovery that I think demonstrates humanity’s pursuit in both space and understanding the very fabric of the universe.

If you’re interested in hearing famous people’s perspectives on what they’d send, there’s a great episode on Radiolab, which you can listen to here. So, reader, what would you put on this record? What do you consider iconic about humanity?

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