Sounds of Earth. Now in Interstellar Space.

What sounds would you select to represent our entire planet? Not just human life, not just animals, but the all of our magnificent home. Made a few choices? Now imagine that your playlist will still be the first thing to leave the planetary neighborhood. What if the beings that discover your playlist are not human? Will they even have ears? For that matter, will they have a sense of hearing? Humanity has made this playlist. It’s one of the first man-made objects to leave the solar system.

In 1977, NASA sent out the two spacecraft. They’re twins: Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. These are the spaceships that are taking the sounds of our home, and leaving the solar system with them. Each probe has a golden record mounted on its side. The playlist is the same on both probes. Astrophysicist Carl Sagan led the team who collected the contents of the record.

NASA posted portions of the recording on their SoundCloud page.

So what made the cut on the first interstellar record?

Greetings from Earth–55 languages total. Including these gems.

“Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.” Translated from Amoy Min, spoken in southeast China.

This proudly poetic blessing originally in Turkish “Dear Turkish-speaking friends, may the honors of the morning be upon your heads.”

The Telugu recording even drops a “Namaste.”

The record include an hour and a half of music. Songs from around the world are presently flying through interstellar space, including Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (first movement). A large selection of non-western music includes a Peruvian wedding song, Morning Star and Devil Bird from aboriginal Australia, and Senegalese percussion.

Carl Sagan wanted to include Here Comes the Sun from Abbey Road. The Beatles were on board, but EMI shut them down. Fun haters.

The record continues to dive into the things that pull the heartstrings: a mother’s first words to her newborn, a kiss, the beating of a heart, laughter, the barks of dogs, the howls of wolves, and even the brainwaves of a woman in love.

Sounds of the earth itself are represented by thunder, earthquake, volcano, rain, wind and surf splashing to shore. Hyena, elephant, whale, chimpanzee, frogs and crickets show the diversity of the animal kingdom. When you think of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 crossing cosmic distances. Don’t imagine a whooshing sound. Imagine crickets.

The choice of the record was no accident. Records–unlike tape, CD, or mp3–physically contain sound. The soundwaves are etched into grooves, so that when a stylus is dragged over the soundwaves, it translates the grooves into audible sounds. Both records are equipped with a stylus for playback. Think of it as a swiss-army-knife record player. The instructions on how to play the record are even given in pictures. The record plays at 16.67 rpm, half the speed of an album on standard issue 12 inch vinyl.

For the ultimate guide to everything on the playlist, and how it was picked, grab a copy of Carl Sagan’s Murmurs of Earth: the Voyager Interstellar Record. Godspeed, Carl Sagan.

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3 comments

  1. While the Beetles on Voyager would have been cool, EMI was just thinking ahead. You think international copyright law is complicated! Interstellar copyright law is a real headache. Once you get outside our solar system, things get really complicated. In some instances (for example, near black holes), the copyright term is actually a negative integer.

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