UW News » Science
Research | Science | UW and the community | UW Today blog
August 23, 2017
The Voyager spacecraft showcasing where the Golden Record is mounted.NASA/JPL
Forty years ago this month, Planet Earth said hello to the cosmos with the launch of the two Voyager probes that used gravity to swing from world to world on a grand tour of the solar system. Each bore a two-sided, 12-inch, gold-plated copper “Golden Record” of sights and sounds from Earth and its people — and a stylus to help play the record.
About 20 billion kilometers (about 12 ½ billion miles) from home now, Voyager I has since become the most distant human-made object in space. Voyager 2, in clear second place, is now about 17.2 billion kilometers away.
You could call the Golden Record a sort of intergalactic greeting card, love letter, map or time capsule — even humankind’s most epic mixtape.
“It may also be the last surviving human artifact and thus perhaps an ark,” says UW Information School associate professor Joe Janes in a new episode to his ongoing Documents that Changed the World podcast noting the Voyager anniversary.
“It’s all these things and more,” Janes adds. “Though for me the best metaphor is a message in a bottle — likely the ultimate message in a bottle.”
In the podcast series — which also became a book this year — Janes explores the origin and often evolving meaning of historical documents both famous and less-known.
In this new, Voyager-inspired episode, Janes discusses the planning and creation of the Golden Record, which was the brainchild of Carl Sagan, the world-famous Cornell University physicist who led the group that built two records and decided what information they should carry, to represent Earth to the universe.
Janes is a longtime fan of Sagan and his work: “I saw Cosmos on PBS in 1980 and was hooked, both on the mysteries of the universe and our …