NASA's gold record turns 30: are the aliens listening to Chuck Berry yet?

It was thirty years ago today that NASA launched Voyager 2 into space with an analog, 12-inch gold disc. The record has music and images from Earth.

NASA's gold record comes with a phono cartridge and instructions for set-up and use. NASA/JPL-Caltech

I heard on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday that it was 30 years ago that NASA sent Voyager 2 into space with the music of Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, Beethoven, Bach, and a wide selection of world music. The disc that also contained images of Earth, and the sounds of whales, a baby crying, and waves breaking on a shore. The NASA scientists must have felt sound was one of the best ways to communicate human experience of the 20th century to intelligent life in the distant future.

The gold-plated, 12-inch copper disc was an all-analog recording, probably because that was the only way to ensure the aliens would be able to play the thing 40,000 years from now. That's NASA's estimate for when the Voyager 2 will be far enough from Earth to encounter another planetary system. The interstellar probe is traveling at 38,000 miles an hour, and as of March this year Voyager 2 was 7.68 billion miles from Earth. So sure, it's more than a few years out of warranty, but Voyager 2 is still sending scientific information back to us.

 

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