To give you an impression of the time that has passed, it was shortly after I graduated from High School that the Voyager probes were launched. With logic that can only be accredited to NASA, Voyager 2 was launched first, on 20 August 1977, and Voyager 1 was launched 5 September 1977. Traveling slightly faster, at 38,000 mph, Voyager 1 passed voyager 2, so that it will be the first man made vehicle to travel beyond our solar system. If we can determine where precisely our solar system ends, Voyager 1 should cross the barrier at any time. We’ll receive the data about seventeen hours later, because that’s how long it takes for the signal to travel the eleven and a half billion miles.
There are literally millions of things to learn from the Voyager missions, but what I want to talk about today is perspective.
It has taken thirty six years to travel seventeen light hours. Last week, three potentially habitable planets were discovered orbiting a nearby star (Gliese 667C). Nearby meaning twenty two light years away. This would mean that traveling at the same speed as Voyager 1, it would take about three hundred seventy four thousand one hundred three years to reach these new found planets. To put that period of time into perspective, it was that many years ago the first neanderthals discovered Europe, Homo Sapiens did not yet exist.
This is not to say we might won’t come up with some innovation to allow us to cross the void in less time than it has taken to develop as a species. In the years since Voyager was launched, its technology has become somewhat antiquated, the symbol of which most will agree is the golden phonograph record attached to each.
Certainly any advanced life form should understand how to retrieve the data from a phonograph. Just ask your average twenty year old computer geek. First ask them if they are aware of the existence of phonographic recordings.
Learning from its “inappropriate” plaques on the Pioneer probes, there were no anatomically correct images of human beings, we are a modest bunch, and who knows what we may have evolved into by the time any aliens follow the attached map back to Earth. There will be no history books to describe who the greeting voices on the record belong to, Kurt Waldheim seemed a natural as Secretary General of the United Nations, only a decade later did earthlings discover he had been complicit in NAZI atrocities during World War Two. Maybe the aliens will figure out that the intelligence that launched this minivan size probe into interstellar space was the whales, whose voices are also on the record.
This all assumes that something one day finds one of the Voyager probes. If Voyager 2 was the size of a needle, the haystack would be slightly larger than the planet Earth, and expanding every day. As Carl Sagan said, “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.”. Did you know Carl was a friend Of Timothy Leary? Just sayin…
Voyager is literally in unknown territory, so predictions about what may happen next are based on…nothing. This is what “exploration” is all about.