Last week's post on what the Earth looks like during an eclipse garnered a lot of Ooohs and Aaahs in the comments because of the unusual view it provided of the Earth. But what kind of view would extraterrestrials find of this planet? Fortunately for them, they won't have to travel too far to find pictures of Earth and her inhabitants as they can just look at the images preserved on the Voyager Golden Record.
The Voyager Golden Record is the famous vinyl record that was sent out to space a few decades ago in the hopes of it encountering an alien civilization along its voyage. It is notable for its collection of pictures and sounds that were meticulously selected to represent the Earth and its inhabitants as of its creation. In essence, the recording is the sum total of humanity and their home.
There are two golden records, actually gold-plated copper records, one on board each of the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977. Both spacecrafts are on a trajectory to reach interstellar space (or space outside of the solar system), with Voyager 1 being the most distant man-made object from Earth.
The contents of the record include over 116 images of people in action as well as features of the Earth and solar system, along with spoken greetings in 55 languages and different sound clips of the both natural and manmade objects. It also includes 90-minutes of music from different countries and genres, with the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach being the most represented with three of his concertos and solo pieces included.
The NASA committee in-charge of selecting the record's contents was chaired by Carl Sagan and included images that they believed were descriptive of this planet. They include pictures of the planets along with illustrations of the human anatomy and the structure of the DNA. They also included some eclectic choices that provide an interesting look at the day-to-day life of humans.
Photographs included in the vinyl include the heights of humanity's technological advances such as an X-ray of a hand to man's physical prowess like the multiple exposure image of a gymnast on a balance beam to more artistic views of the planet such as Ansel Adams' 1942 black-and-white photograph of the Tetons and the Snake River. However, they also included more mundane activities like a simultaneous demonstration of people licking, eating and drinking, and even an image of someone shopping in a supermarket.
Why would Carl Sagan's committee choose such commonplace events such as the two mentioned above?. Maybe after such a display of technological and artistic prowess, they didn't want to scare away the aliens? Or maybe they realized that it's the little things that make humanity what it is today? Whatever the reason behind their selection, the 100 or so images provide viewers with an opportunity to reflect about themselves and maybe help people realize that eating grapes in a grocery store is just as human as performing a space walk in an astronaut' suit.
The NASA JPL website has more information about the Voyager Golden Record. There's also this website with all of the images, sounds, greetings and music on the record. Another website, the Golden Record Revisited, provides an updated account of what kind of images of Earth extraterrestrials would see if the spacecrafts were launched today. While they're now relative hard to find, look for Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Intersteller Record or Murmurs of Earth the Voyager Interstellar Record Commemorative Edition, as they contain the complete images and sounds of the recording. You could also try the remix in Scrambles of Earth: Voyager Interstellar Record Re. Aside from the images, you should definitely listen to the music of the Voyager Golden Record with this Youtube playlist.