Somewhere near the edge of our Solar System, two twin space probes, Voyager 1 and 2, are traveling to the stars. Launched in 1977, their mission was to obtain images and other data of importance to planetologists who dedicate their lives to study the gas giants of our Solar System: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
After completing their scientific mission, the ships began their journey into empty space, far from the Solar System. And that’s where they are. In February 2022, Voyager 1 was moving at a speed of 61,185 kilometers per hour and was 23 billion kilometers from home. For its part, Voyager 2 was moving at more than 55,000 kilometers per hour and almost 20,000 million earth kilometers (19.5 billion km; 12.1 billion miles) from Earth as of February 10, 2022. And if in August 2021 Voyager 1 had officially entered the interstellar medium (the region of outer space beyond the influence of the solar wind), Voyager 2 did the same in November 2018. But they still have a long way to go. to leave the Solar System. According to NASA, “If we define our solar system as the Sun and everything that orbits around it, Voyager 1 will remain within the confines of the Solar System until it crosses the Oort cloud in 14,000 to 28,000 years .”
These probes show us in all its extension the fundamental problem of space travel: the enormous distances to travel. Voyager is about 20 light-hours from us; that’s just around the corner in the Cosmos and represents less than 1/2000 the distance to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light-years away. The Voyager probe has taken 45 years to get where it is now and it will take a whopping 40,000 years to pass close to a star : specifically, it will do so 1.6 light-years from one with an uninspiring name, Gliese 455, located 17 light-years from us. None of our descendants will be able to hear any transmission from the ship: almost without power, in 2025 the instruments that still work will be turned off and the probes will be, forever, silent traveling through a silent universe. After 2036, both probes will be out of range of NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Once the Voyagers have crossed the outer limits of our Solar System, they will become the visiting card of an ancient civilization that lived on the third planet of a solar system whose star is a yellow dwarf. Because in them they carry a message addressed to possible extraterrestrial beings. Or, who knows! Perhaps it will be found by our descendants who decided to travel to the stars. If we are not yet extinct by then.
A bottle in the cosmic ocean
The main person in charge of this curious project was the well-known Carl Sagan . This American astrophysicist edited the recording of an album where aliens will be able to listen to greetings in 55 human languages , a sample of the language of whales, the crying of a baby, a kiss, the sound recording of an electroencephalogram with the meditations of a woman in love and 90 minutes of music : mariachis, Peruvian siku flutes, Hindu raga, a Navajo Indian night song, a Pygmy woman’s initiation song, a Japanese shakuihachi piece, as well as music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry, who plays his famous Johnny B. Goode. That as long as the aliens know how to interpret the instructions necessary to assemble the record player and put the record on. Porue easy, what is said easy to understand, they are not. All in all, if a hypothetical ship captures one of the probes and the aliens manage to listen to the album, maybe they will answer us as they hinted on Saturday Night Live : “please send more ‘Johnny B. Goode’”.
But perhaps the most ironic of all is humanity’s message of peace directed at these supposedly advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. It was recorded by the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim . Ironically, on April 27, 1987, the United States Department of Justice and State Department announced that an investigation by the Office of Special Investigations showed that Waldheim had participated in the transfer of civilian prisoners to the SS for exploitation as slave labor, in the mass deportation of civilians and Jews from the Greek islands and from the city of Banja Luka (Yugoslavia) to concentration and extermination camps, in the dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda, in the torture and execution of prisoners of war allies and in retaliatory executions of hostages and civilians.
By then it was too late to send the Voyagers home…
Ferris, T. (2017) “How the Voyager Golden Record Was Made”. The New Yorker, 20 de agosto