How do you communicate earth’s cultural heritage to aliens?

Imagine a spaceship that is sent on an intergalactic mission. It is unmanned, but there is a little bit of room for an object that represents earth’s shared cultural heritage, in the event that the spaceship is found by an intelligent extra-terrestrial life form. What object would you include?

This question is not actually hypothetical. A golden disc was included on board the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes that were launched in 1977 and 1976 respectively, each containing a carefully selected series of images and sounds that represent human history and culture. In addition, the discs contained instructions on how to play the gold-plated record and a rough indication of earth’s position relative to some notable cosmic objects.

Voyager golden recordThe Sounds of Earth (Public Domain, source: NASA)

The content for the ‘bottle in the cosmic ocean’ was selected by a committee chaired by the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan. The team decided on 116 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals. In addition, musical selections from different cultures and eras were included, as well as spoken greetings in more than fifty ancient and modern languages.

The idea behind the golden record is that intelligent alien life forms that would encounter one of the spaceships carrying the golden record would get an idea about life on our small planet and get a taste of our cultural diversity. In that sense, the mission of the discs is similar to that of institutes such as Europeana – to collect, preserve and disseminate the diversity of culture – on a much smaller, but very intriguing scale.

Voyager 1Voyager 1 (Public Domain, source: NASA)

At the moment, being more than 19,000,000,000 kilometres away from earth, Voyager 1 is currently the most remote human-made object ever. After travelling for nearly 40 years, the spacecraft is now outside our solar system and in interstellar space. However, don’t expect the space probe and its disc to be found by alien life soon: it is estimated that at its current speed, Voyager 1 needs another 40,000 years of flight at its current speed to reach its first star.

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