Voyager’s Golden Records: A Time Capsule from Earth

Among the most iconic artifacts of human civilization in space are the Golden Records affixed to the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, both launched in 1977. Designed as a sort of time capsule intended to communicate the story of our world to extraterrestrials, the Golden Records are a testament to human culture and technological achievements.

Protective cover on the left, and golden record on the right
Golden record attached to the spacecraft

The Content of the Records

The Golden Records are 12-inch, gold-plated copper disks, each encased in an aluminum jacket to protect them from micrometeorite bombardment and engraved with instructions on how to play them.

The contents of the records were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan and include a rich array of scientifically encoded information and media designed to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

  • Sound of Earth: The records begin with sounds of Earth, which include the sounds of wind, rain, surf, a chimpanzee, birds, whales, and other animals. It also features a selection of human-made sounds, such as a train, a car, and a Saturn 5 rocket lift-off.
  • Music: The records feature a wide range of music from different cultures and eras. There are 27 musical pieces in total, from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” alongside traditional music from around the world.
  • Greeting in Different Languages: The records contain greetings in 55 different languages, from Akkadian—a language last spoken 4,000 years ago—to modern languages such as English and Mandarin.
  • Images: Encoded in analog form are 115 images showing mathematical and physical quantities, a solar location map, DNA structure, human anatomy, human activities, and a wide array of terrestrial landscapes, animals, plants, and scientific processes.
  • A Personal Message: There is also a personal message from then-President Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim, expressing hopes of peace and goodwill.

The Legacy of the Golden Records

The Golden Records were never really intended for communication with extraterrestrial life; traveling at a mere 38,000 miles per hour, it would take the Voyager spacecraft 40,000 years to reach the nearest star system.

Instead, the records were more a message to ourselves—a symbol of our civilization at a particular point in time, carrying a blend of our knowledge, hopes, dreams, and the essence of our existence.

The Voyager spacecraft, each carrying a Golden Record, have now left our solar system and are voyaging into the interstellar medium. They are the furthest human-made objects from Earth, serving as silent ambassadors of humanity in the vast cosmic ocean.

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