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August 20th - An Historic Day


tonyhThu, 10/08/2017 - 12:33pm
Voyager - Wikipedia Artists Impression

Our village celebrates 50 years of community support on this day this year. But did you know that this same day is also the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 2 spacecraft?

Scientists realised in the 1960s that the outer planets would be perfectly aligned in the late 70s for a single probe to to visit them all. Two satelites were built, but Voyager 2 was the first to be launched - on August 20th 1977.

Voyager 2 travelled about 640,000,000 km over two years to its first encounter which was Jupiter. It continued on to fly past Saturn, Uranus and Neptune over a period of another 10 years travelling at a speed of 57,600 km/hr. The probe sent back the most extraordinary pictures of these planets showing features never previously imagined.

Both probes carry gold-plated LPs with hundreds of photos and recordings of Earth and life on Earth together with a stereo cartridge and instuctions for any curious alien  on how to play it all back!

40 years later, both Voyagers are still functioning. As of July 30, 2017 Voyager 2 was 17.2 billion km from the Sun.

What is so extraordinary is that the Voyagers have done all this work with computers with 69.6 kilobytes of memory each. For comparison, an iPhone 5 with 16 gigabytes of memory has about 240,000 times the memory of a Voyager spacecraft. So they didn't even have the power to set up a Facebook account! How simple and peaceful was life then.


Since writing this article, I have been curious about how pictures were put on an (analogue) LP. No digital recordings, iView or Spotify in those days.

I decided it must go something like this:

  • Our alien friend finds the LP, bites it first and discovers it’s gold plated copper, not fancy chocolate from his/her/its local Aldi equivalent.
  • This causes him/her/it to notice instructions on the label. The wording would have to be in the universal alien language as we knew it in 1977, spoken on the LP with a stuttering, crackly voice, as in, “I am a Dalek and I am going to exterminate you….”
  • There will be provisos explaining that users must have at least one ear (two being better for full stereo effect) and one eye (in the middle of the forehead is fine).
  • He/she/it reads the label. “Put your boney finger through the hole in the disc. Stick the little pricky thing on the edge of the disc. Spin the disc at precisely 33rpm. Place your tongue on the terminals. You will feel a pleasant tingling sensation on your tongue which your superior electronic brain will translate into words for you. Grab a stubby and follow the instructions.”
  • He/she/it will hear from the disc that just behind the door of Voyager, in the drawer on the left, under the Dick Smith Commodore computer, he/she/it will find canvas, oil paints and various brushes.
  • “Set up a piece of canvas approximately 77cm by 53cm. Paint a drab picture of a middle-class Italian (Italian definition track 178) woman born about 13,799,001,600 years after the big bang, with no eyebrows and a tedious smirk, sitting in front of a dismal rural setting and a polluted sky.”
  • “Place finished painting behind bullet proof glass and admire your introduction to Earthly culture.”
  • "NB. For best artistic effect, an IQ exceeding 196 is desirable. (Human IQ definition on track 2046.)"

Carl Sagan lead a team of people who compiled all the information that’s recorded on the golden disc. I have since found out that Mr Sagan was smarter than this. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_Golden_Record


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Since writing this article, I have been curious about how pictures were put on an (analogue) LP. No digital recordings, iView or Spotify in those days. See my "postscript".

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