The Voyager Golden Records, included aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977, are phonograph records — 12-inch gold-plated copper disks — containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life on Earth. They include 115 analog-encoded photographs, spoken greetings from Earth-people in 55 languages, a 12-minute montage of a variety of natural sounds — such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales and other animals — and 90 minutes of musical selections from different cultures and eras. The famous records are intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials, portraying Earth’s life and culture.
The recordings are now available on Soundcloud, which means that anyone with an Internet connection can experience NASA’s “time capsule” for themselves, knowing that the originals are still traveling through empty space or the heliosphere. (It will be 40,000 years before they make a close approach to another other planetary system.) Although the recordings have been online for years now as individual sound clips, this is the first time these thought-provoking sounds are available as a continuous stream of clips.
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The contents of the Golden Records were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled them as a greeting to any extraterrestrials the spacecraft might encounter along the way — like a “bottle in the cosmic ocean,” as Sagan put it. NASA attached one record to each spacecraft prior to launch, encasing each record in a protective aluminum jacket, complete with a cartridge, needle and instructions on how to work the record player, plus details about the craft’s origins.
About the Voyager Mission
NASA reports that the twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are now exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-37-year journey since their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made its historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Scientists hope to learn more about this region when Voyager 2, now in the “heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar medium — also reaches interstellar space. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network, or DSN.
The primary Voyager mission was exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. However, after making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain. And beyond.