How to go a long way

You’ll have been expecting this, I reckon. The Voyager 2 space probe has become only the second manmade object to enter interstellar space. Voyager 1 had already done that, back in 2012. We know 2 has just done it because it’s passed the heliopause. It is no longer subject to the solar wind of charged particles. It’s gone forever.

This is a considerable achievement, not least because we’re still in touch with it after 40-odd years and 11 billion miles and some of the instruments are still working and transmitting data. But the best bit, for me, has always been what you could think of as an add-on.

When scientists were planning the missions, they clocked that these two chunks of metal and electronics would probably be the first manmade objects to reach another star. On the principle that some friendly Klingon might pick them up, they decided to incorporate some messages. To do this, they produced gold plated copper discs with various bits and pieces recorded on them*.

There’s some interesting stuff on there, and Carl Sagan had a hand in the selection. There are ‘sounds of earth,’ wind, surf, whales, thunder. There’s a selection of music, too, including a sort of early ‘Hooked on Classics.’. Spoken messages in 50 odd languages, including Akkadian, spoken in Sumer six thousand years ago. Welsh. That’s there. What the Klingons will make of that is anybody’s guess, since as I’ve pointed out it sounds like one of the Flowerpot Men trying to bring up a furball. There’s a written message from Jimmy Carter, the then US president.

There’s quite an interesting selection of images too, including, prosaically, an interior view of a supermarket.

It was all charmingly lo-tech. The protective covers for the discs actually contained a stylus and a cartridge, and graphic instructions on how the discs were to be played at the requisite 16-2/3 rpm. That’s an odd choice in itself, isn’t it? I’m sure there was method in the madness.


It will be about another 40,000 years before the probes pass their first star. But as Carl Sagan said, ‘…the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.’


I like the metaphor there, even if he might be less optimistic if he were still alive these days.

*Now that’s what you call a gold disc, eh?