This Is How Aliens Will Read Our First Space Greeting Card

In a very distant future an alien spaceship will come across one of the Voyager spacecrafts. And when they do, they will find two things: a golden disc -- a space-proof metal version of a normal vinyl record containing sounds, music and images from Earth -- and a a record player.

When that happens, we will subject the aliens to the same torture that gadget companies have been imposing on us for decades: a user manual. It's not hard to imagine that this reason alone will be enough to cause an interplanetary war.

When NASA started to work on the Voyagers, Carl Sagan and other scientists working in the project wanted to include a description of us and our planet, for anyone who could come across the spaceships, being alien or human. His words:

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.

Sagan also publicly said that "the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement more than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life" but, knowing his views on the matter, I can't help but think that he probably had some hope about it being found by someone.

To that effect, a team started to curate a list of sounds, music pieces and images that would be the perfect representation of planet Earth. Or, at least a nice testimony of our understanding of it.

They recorded all this data in analogue form on one side of the disc. That was the only technology available at the time, when they launched in 1977. No MP3s or JPEGs or animated GIFs. On the other side of the disc they etched a quick reference card. I can't make any sense out of it, but obviously I'm neither an engineer nor an alien, despite what some of my wives have said.

If they are successful at deciphering this gibberish -- and, given that they will have interstellar spaceships, chances are that they will be more successful than you or I -- they will get to listen to the sounds in this video among many others. Some of them are quite scary. I don't know if I would like to visit Earth after listening to them -- although, by the time someone finds this, the things making those sounds will probably be gone from the face of the planet. Including Jimmy Carter, who recorded the following:

This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.

Never a greeting card was so gloomy as this one.

The aliens will also get to hear music from Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Stravinsky, along with Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry. I'm quite happy to know that Berry will be rocking in the clean room of some Imperial Star Destroyer. Roll Over, Vader.

They will also find the images in the second video. 116 images encoded in analogue form, composed of 512 vertical lines -- a video signal that will play fine in any old TV set. The images were selected to give a good idea of our place in the universe, showing everything from the planets in our solar system to our internal body structure (always nice to show your guts to hungry aliens) and different scenes from Earth.

Incredibly enough, among the images there weren't any pictures of a naked man or woman, showing us bare as species. Apparently, NASA told Sagan and his colleagues that they wanted to avoid the controversy of the Pioneer plaque, which was attacked by prude conservative groups in the United States -- which I guess is a testimony of the sad state of things in this country at the time (and now).

I didn't learn about that until today and I'm speechless that NASA conceded. It seems that some people were -- and still are, I'm sure -- afraid to show human penises and breasts to an alien civilisation travelling in a spaceship. Think about that. Now that is reason enough to wipe out our planet. Or at least, abduct all those morons. Maybe that's what the rapture is all about.

In any case, chances are that aliens will hear and see us way before someone crosses paths with this golden greeting card. Radio signals travel way faster than Voyager -- at the speed of light -- and in every direction. And we have been sending them for decades now.

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    The voyager disc is too cryptic, it'll be ghibberish for aliens too since they won't have the same frame of reference, all our science and engineering is the result of how physics work in our little bubble of space, and it may not be consistent across the entire universe. We may as well have just sent a crossword puzzle and expect them to figure out the english language...

    I'm sure they'll just think the disc is an elaborate hoax by their own kind.

      I agree.. Or it somehow does a loop and lands back on earth 10,000 years later making the evolved human civilisations think that ET has made contact with them but can't figure out how to decrypt the messages themselfs.

        Maybe they will be amazed instead, like when Bart Simpson goes to the future with a yo-yo.

      It even frreaks me out watching it. I hate to think what any kind of alien race would think about it.

        The i thing im worried about is that it leads them straight to earth, i'd hate to think it would get into the wrong alien hands. " hmmm free slaves!'

      That's the whole point, they sent a snap shot of our culture and place in the world, if they wanted to send something universally understandable they'd just send pages of maths.

      Last edited 07/02/13 9:04 am

      They aren't meant to "understand" the content of the message. They are meant to understand that it IS a message. From us. An intelligent life form. They'll understand it's not random.

      Presuming they're out there, of course.

      It was largely symbolic. However, they put a fair amount of work in to at least try. For instance, not using arrows or anything like that as aliens wouldn't necessarily know what they were.

      But yeah, it's entirely possible there'd be life forms who wouldn't even understand 2 dimensional scratches in metal. But as someone else here said, they'd likely realise it was made by intelligent beings.

    Don't worry bob, the reality is that its most likely to be rediscovered by our own descendents who will thus hopefully be better able to decipher it.

    Um, physics is certainly uniform across the universe. The messages are written in such a way that any other intelligent life forms who have a good understand of the principals of nature can decode it.

      "Um, physics is certainly uniform across the universe."

      Who says? How do we know that?

        Physics and more importantly relativity say. And there is a lot of evidence to back it up.

          Theories, nothing more. That's why it's the theory of relativity - nothing is certain.

            Just remember that "Theory" in scientific terms is a lot different than the lay usage. Have a look at wikipedia for Scientific theory and it explains it quite well.
            From Wikipedia

            A scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment

            This makes your argument invalid

              Just because it's a well known, popular and credible theory, does not mean for a second that one day it can't be disproved. Yes it is repeatable, yes all evidence points to it being correct, but we can't test in every known environment because that's impossible. It doesn't make my point invalid at all, it just displays your closed mind.

              Last edited 07/02/13 6:09 pm

                However the more testing that validates a theory pushes that theory to be more than likely valid on its "probability of being correct" curve.

                This means your point is correct in terms of probability, but generally speaking your position has diminishing returns the more "tested" a theory is. This "testing" points the theory well towards certainty.

                Using the Theory of Relativity example above, so far nothing has voided it, and plenty of work has validated it. So you would need to have done some damn good science to hold an alternate position and challenge that certainty.

                However you do need to be careful and scientific. Darwin's Theory of Evolution has people promoting "Intelligent Design" as a theory that has no scientific back up, making this pseudo-science. So there is also a limit to keeping your mind open to alternatives.

                Healthy skepticism is a good thing to have, but to challenge a theory means you need to have done some science to back up your rejection of the current theory and not just reject the theory outright or hold a counter position just "because"!

                Doctors Marshall and Warren proved most stomach ulcers were caused by Helicobacter pylori and won a Nobel prize in doing this science. In this case the medical assumption that bacteria could not survive in stomach acid was not well "tested". It is also a bit of a dumb assumption when you know the range of environments bacteria can actually live in.

                Popularity & credibility don't apply, the degree of scientific testing and scientific challenge do. They push a theory more towards certainty. The position you hold suggests that every theory will be overturned one day and therefore they are useless. I'd like to see you tell a patient that you won't treat their stomach ulcer with anti-biotics because the Nobel prize winning theory may one day be overturned.

                  So you agree with me, you're not ruling out the possibility. I'm not saying it isn't correct, I'm saying milosevicn believes it's absolutely true with "Um, physics is certainly uniform across the universe"
                  I'm merely saying he is wrong, and that he isn't right with that statement.

            Scientific theories... which is completely different from common meaning of theory. These are our best description of the reason for facts. Theories can change, but Netwonian physics didn't stop describing the universe in a useful way - relativity just described it better.

            We assume the universe is homogeneous, but could be wrong. So far our tests show that it is.

              Correct - so far. And it's not like I'm hoping that they'll be disproved, but the chance is there.

            A Scientific Theory is not an opinion. It is also not a guess.
            Also, the "if what I think is wrong, then everything is wrong" scenario. Is not a credible, or healthy, frame of reference. Especially for those seeking actual truth about the Multiverse.

            Last edited 07/02/13 12:33 pm

    Races of beings from all over the universes have been here on our plannet alot longer than us, helping us to evolve, for there own fiendish reasons. This disc is part of the misinformation fed to us every day, probably never left the earths atmosphere. We the Humans were sold out by our Ancestors years ago....

      It's such a shame that those beings from all over the 'universes' haven't spent much time on our 'plannet' helping us evolve our grammar and spelling skills.

    "Incredibly enough, among the images there weren't any pictures of a naked man or woman, showing us bare as species." - at 46 seconds into the second video there is exactly that.

    Let's hope whoever finds it aren't evolutionists otherwise they'll just write it off as space junk that just happened to randomly, magically, coalesce into an operational spacecraft. Because, apparently, that's how we got organic molecules and DNA here on earth.

    Aliens will play frisbee with it.

      Or they could do a Christopher Columbus and just melt the gold down.

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