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If you’ve ever had a late night with a friend where you stayed up talking about everything under the sun, it’s very possible that the following topic may have come up in conversation. “Does alien life exist?” And if they do… “What do they think of us?”
We’re about to launch backward 45 years in human history to get a glimpse at a time capsule that few people know about. It’s called the Golden Record. And its purpose? To show intelligent life forms in outer space what human beings on Earth are all about.
A mission to reach beyond our solar system
Now, before we get into what the Golden Record is, it’s important to understand the mission objectives of Voyager 1 and 2: the spacecrafts that carried the Golden Records into the stars. The Voyager Interstellar Mission was designed for exploration of some of our distant planetary neighbors–originally Jupiter and Saturn– and then to go beyond the limits of the solar system we call home.
Voyager 1 and 2 both launched in 1977, and in August of 2012, Voyager 1 made history as it entered interstellar space, the mysterious region between the stars far beyond Pluto. Voyager 2 took off toward the opposite end of the uncharted region, and in 2018 it entered interstellar space past Jupiter and Saturn. Both Voyager 1 and 2 are still sending scientific information about their surroundings to this day!
So what exactly is the golden record?
At a quick glance, you might confuse NASA’s Golden Record with a shiny vinyl music album. But if you were to look closer, you would notice a series of markings that resemble mathematical equations, symbols, and glyphs that clearly mean something more complex than a catchy tune.
In fact, this shiny circular plaque contains a wealth of knowledge that it took centuries for humans to obtain. And at its core, the extraordinary time capsule depicts the very best of our shared humanity.
When NASA launched the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts in 1972 and 1973 to explore the asteroid belt and get a closer look at Jupiter and Saturn, 1 each craft carried with them a small metal plaque identifying their time and place of origin for other space travelers.
But with the launch of Voyager into deep space exploration in 1977, a team of scientists decided to include a gold-plated copper disc containing sounds and images that were selected to portray a story of our world to extraterrestrials. 2
Who got to choose what went on the record?
Can you imagine being tasked with sifting through hundreds of years of history and picking out the pieces that best represent our planet and its inhabitants? Where does one even start?
The logical place to start was with Carl Sagan, the “godfather” of extraterrestrial life research. He was an American astronomer, planetary scientist, author, astrophysicist, science communicator, and cosmologist… so it only makes sense that he would lead a team from Cornell University to create the Golden Record.
Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to recognize the beauty that surrounds us.
Are you ready to see what Carl Sagan and his team put together? This moving video by Vox shows us 116 of the images, and one of the songs that were included on the Golden Record. Turn the volume up and prepare to be overcome with awe, as we look upon ourselves with new, alien eyes.
I can only speak for myself here, but this video makes me feel small and huge at the same time. I imagine the sensation is similar to the phenomenon called “The Overview Effect” that astronauts experience when looking at Earth from the vastness of outer space. It makes me feel so very young and insignificant in relation to the things humanity has experienced up to this point, while simultaneously feeling like part of something big, and whole, and very important.
Why we should focus on the goodness.
Did you notice how the team who created the Golden Record intentionally chose to only highlight the best of our world?
“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”Carl Sagan
Much like our mission here at the Goodness Exchange, the scientists on this project wanted to leave a lasting legacy of knowledge, unity, progress, discovery, and above all…hope. They knew that the not-so-great parts of our history are not who we truly are. Similar to how what we see on the mainstream news is not the full picture. Really, at our cores, we humans are good. And each of us are simply small pieces of an enormous (and magnificent!) puzzle.
What has changed over time that you would like the extraterrestrials to know about?
A lot has changed since the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977 with the original Golden Record. Our technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. Scientists are turning to nature to solve some of our world’s most vexing obstacles. And people are advocating for change in ways that will improve the lives of future generations that they will never meet. One thing remains the same though. There is a secret underground society of do-gooders that are making the world a better place with every passing moment.
History has a way of inspiring us to be our best selves. But the future also holds that same uncanny ability to inspire us to strive toward greatness.
I’ll leave you with some articles from our archive that are the perfect modern examples of the kind of thing our team would like to see on a Golden Record.
But the real question here is, what would you like to see?
60 Second Docs: Inspiring Stories in Under a Minute!
Looking for bite-sized stories of people doing good in the world? In less than a minute, these creators will refresh your view on the possibility and wonder happening around us. Here’s a connection to goodness you’ll definitely want to bookmark!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Why Are These Fridges Mysteriously Appearing on Street Corners?
Could a fridge on a curb change the lives of an entire community? In places where getting access to fresh healthy food is nearly impossible, neighbors, restaurants, and friends are teaming up to support and nourish each other. Here’s how it works and how you can get involved!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Lost Your Faith in Humanity? Find It in This Lost and Found!
Can a story of human compassion be found within a sea of discarded umbrellas? We’re traveling to Tokyo to witness a treasure trove of kindness inside of the world’s most efficient lost and found!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Asparagus: A New Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries?
A feeling very familiar to most of us almost kept this life-changing treatment for spinal cord injuries from making it to testing! Here’s how Andrew Pelling and his fellow researchers overcame self-doubt to create this breakthrough innovation.Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Socialite to Social Innovator: “Charity Water” Brings Clean Water to the World
A former nightclub promoter is now saving millions of lives by bringing them clean water. He used the skills he honed to develop one of the most successful non-profits we’ve ever seen—and you can have a part in it too. Here’s the story.Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
How TurtleCams are Enlisting Turtles to Protect their Ocean!
Do you remember the viral video of the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose? It changed the way many people saw our ocean plastic problem. And now, the scientists behind that video are keeping the positive momentum going—this time turning to the turtles themselves for footage of how we can help make a difference!Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Keep dreaming, and notice the beauty around you!
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- Dyal, P. “Pioneers 10 and 11 Deep Space Missions.” COSPAR Colloquia Series, Pergamon, 17 Sept. 2013, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780080407807500634. ↩
- NASA. “Voyager – the Golden Record.” NASA, NASA, https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/golden-record/. ↩
- Vox. The 116 Images NASA Wants Aliens to See – Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAN1kt4SG9E. ↩