The 6” X 9” gold-anodized aluminum plaque (above) shows the position of the sun with respect to the center of the galaxy and nearby pulsars. Carl Sagan and Frank Drake created it in an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life somewhere in the far reaches of outer space. Launched in 1972, the Pioneer 10 and the Pioneer 11 were the first spacecraft designed to leave the solar system, and both carry duplicates of the plaque. It displays the then-nine planets (a pox on you, Neil de Grasse Tyson!), the Pioneer spacecraft’s planet of origin, its trajectory past Mars and Jupiter, and its slingshot past Saturn outward from our helio-heart. The radial pattern consists of 14 lines made up of long binary numbers that represent the periods of the pulsars. The horizontal line that extends past the humans represents the sun’s relative distance to the center of the galaxy. A silhouette of the spacecraft in scale is juxtaposed to the humans so that relative size can be determined. The two circles at the top represent the fundamental state of the hydrogen atom, which acts as a universal clock. The regular decrease in the frequency of the pulsars will enable ETs to determine the time elapsed since each spacecraft was launched. In about 2 million years the plaque should arrive at Aldebaran, 68 light-years away. Let’s hope that whatever intelligence retrieving this message in a bottle is not reading an elegy to an extinct civilization.
Forty one years ago, Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, also designed to escape the gravity of the solar system, were launched with a more complete and complex array of information about the Earth and its inhabitants etched on a gold-plated copper disk. This included recordings of greetings in 55 different languages as well as nature sounds, the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Chuck Berry. Diagrams and photographs of DNA, human anatomy, food, architecture, the planets and solar system, and other scientific stuff were incorporated into this time capsule. Oh yes, printed messages of politicians and world leaders also made the cut. (Oy veh.) However, the same pulsar map and hydrogen molecule found on the Pioneer plaque were also integrated into this interstellar “barbaric YAWP.” In 40,000 years Voyager 1 will be within 1.6 light-years of a star in Ophiuchus, the Serpent Handler. Voyager has just exited the solar system—much like Elvis leaving the building. Just after this happened, the spacecraft inexplicably began to send back data in an altered format that scientists have been unable to decode. Paleo-SETI expert Hartwig Hausdorf speculates that the spacecraft might have been hijacked and reprogrammed. Motive? Unknown. It seems we can create codes but we can’t crack them.
Above is also an engraving from the petroglyph site of Driekopseiland, South Africa, with a radial pattern similar to that of the Pioneer Plaque. Photo is rotated so the natural rock fracture bisecting the circle is horizontal. There are seven rays in each hemisphere of the circle, corresponding to the pulsars. At the upper-right is a circle that contains two lines, corresponding to the hydrogen molecule. The outer circle may contain 33 rays, but it is impossible to tell because the rock surface is flaked to the immediate right of the circle.
Did the people who made this rock engraving in South Africa 3,200 years ago or more actually “remote view” the future and glimpse this image we created in the late 20th century which is now bound for the stars? Were they in contact with an intelligence that knew about the Pioneer Plaque from their journeys through space and/or time and wanted to convey its significance to indigenous tribes?
Or is all of this just a big “coincidence”?