Voyagers to the Stars

Voyagers to the Stars Cartoon of alien looking confused.

The mission:
Go where NOTHING FROM EARTH has ever gone before.

The two Voyager spacecraft are about to take us beyond our own star system!

Launched in 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 first explored Jupiter and Saturn. Then Voyager 1 went off in a different direction. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune.

Drawing of the Voyagers tour through the outer planets.Now, more than 30 years old, both of them are still going and going.

Voyager 1 is so far away that it takes 15 hours and 33 minutes for a message from Earth to reach it--traveling at the speed of light! It is 16.8 billion kilometers (10.4 billion miles) from the Sun. That's 22,000 round trips to the Moon!

Eventually, the Voyagers will run out of fuel to generate power. Then they will no longer communicate with Earth at all. But they will still keep going, Voyager 1 at about 61,000 kilometers (38,000 miles) per hour, and Voyager 2 at about 56,000 kilometers (35,000 miles) per hour. It would take Voyager 1 only 4 minutes to travel from Los Angeles, California, to Boston, Massachusetts--a distance of 4,192 kilometers (2,605 miles)!

Now the spacecraft are getting close to the very edge of our solar system. They will soon detect no solar wind at all, but only the interstellar "wind" from past explosions of nearby stars.

Diagram shows solar system and area of Sun's influence where it meets interstellar space, and the two Voyagers' approximate locations.

They will be interstellar travelers!

And they will keep going until they run into something big enough--or intelligent enough--to stop them.

Cartoon of two green aliens looking puzzled at a Voyager spacecraft.What if space-faring aliens find them--aliens who know nothing about Earth?

No one knows whether any intelligent beings live elsewhere in the Universe. Even if they do, no one knows whether any have conquered space travel--or whether one of the Voyagers might encounter them someday. But if they do exist, and if they have conquered space, and if they did find a spacecraft from Earth--wouldn't we want our spacecraft to say something to them? Wouldn't we want to tell them about ourselves?

The answer for the Voyagers' builders was yes! The famous astronomer Carl Sagan led a team back in the 70s to decide what to say in the message. His team recorded natural sounds of Earth--like surf, whale song, thunder, and birds. They recorded music from all over the world. They recorded greetings in many languages. And they included drawings and photos.

They put all this information about Earth on two golden records, one to fly on each of the Voyager spacecraft. They included instructions in symbols, so that any aliens smart enough to have space travel would be able to figure out how to play the record. Using the universal language of science and math, they also found ways to communicate our location in the galaxy and how long ago the spacecraft was launched.

Photo of the Golden Record

Golden record carried into space by each of the Voyager spacecraft.

Photo of the cover on the Golden Record

Cover of the golden record explaining who and where we are and how to play the record.

Click on each small image to see a larger version.

  • A house in Africa.
  • Woman with x-rays of the bones in her hand.
  • The United Nations building in New York City.
  • Our planet from space, with formulas for the gases that make up our atmosphere, along with their proportions. Other diagrams on the record explain what atoms are in each gas.
  • Men working on a fishing boat.
  • A commercial passenger airplane.
  • Our whole planet as seen from space.
  • A traffic-crowded street in India.
  • Woman looking through a microscope.
  • A street scene in Pakistan.
airplane This will be pulled in from the alt tag of the image.

Below are a few samples from the sound track included on the record.

article last updated February 13, 2013
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