The cir­cle of life

Cosmos - - Spectrum - — AN­DREW MASTER­SON

IN 1977 NASA launched two probes – Voy­ager 1 and 2 – into space on a jour­ney with no end. They are still go­ing, and still trans­mit­ting in­for­ma­tion back to base. As you read this, they are about 16 bil­lion kilo­me­tres from Earth, whack­ing along at 55,000 km/h.

The Voy­ager craft em­bod­ied the peak of tech­nol­ogy when they were launched. Each in­cluded an in­for­ma­tion­packed gold LP record. The du­pli­cate arte­facts, de­signed as a greet­ing card from hu­man­ity, are in­tended to be de­ci­pher­able by any alien civil­i­sa­tion able to fig­ure out that a pin in a mov­ing groove ren­ders an au­di­ble (and vis­ual) trans­la­tion of the lumps and bumps therein.

There were only half a dozen or so of the orig­i­nal gold records ever made, but now the rest of us can own our very own copy – sort of – thanks to a tiny US record com­pany called Ozma. Af­ter a mas­sively over-sub­scribed Kick­starter cam­paign, the com­pany re­leased a box set com­pris­ing the orig­i­nal record­ings (now spread over three gold-coloured vinyl al­bums), a book con­tain­ing pho­to­graphs also en­coded on the orig­i­nal, and (as a bonus for record-col­lec­tors) a turntable slip-mat show­ing the crafts’ routes out of the So­lar Sys­tem.

The run sold out in sec­onds. Avail­able for the mo­ment only on re­sale plat­forms, the Ozma Voy­ager box set is al­ready a much sought-af­ter col­lec­tors’ item.

The con­tent, de­cided by a committee headed by as­tronomer Carl Sa­gan, in­cludes music from so­ci­eties around the globe, the sounds of na­ture – whales singing, birds call­ing, that sort of thing – and peo­ple re­lay­ing greet­ings and best wishes in many dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

Un­for­tu­nately, in ret­ro­spect, the first greet­ing is from the then United Na­tions head Kurt Wald­heim, who shortly af­ter en­dured the dis­grace of be­ing ex­posed as a WWII in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer com­plicit in Ger­man war crimes. Aliens are un­likely to care much about this, but it does make for a slightly awk­ward mo­ment for hu­man lis­ten­ers now.

It isn’t re­ally some­thing you will want to play more than once. You may, how­ever, still cher­ish it and, in time, be­queath it to your chil­dren.

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