Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

June 29, 1996

The Voyagers' Message in a Bottle
Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, and NASA

Explanation: Launched in the summer of 1977, NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are now over 4.5 billion miles from the Sun. Still operational, the Voyagers are being tracked and commanded through the Deep Space Network. Having traveled beyond the outer planets, these remarkable spacecraft are only the third and fourth human built artifacts to escape our solar system, following in the footsteps of Pioneer 10 and 11. A 12-inch gold plated copper disk (pictured) containing recorded sounds and images representing human cultures and life on Earth, is affixed to each Voyager - a message in a bottle cast into the cosmic sea. The recorded material was selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. The disks are intended to be played like a phonograph record at 16 and 2/3 revolutions per second. Cartridge and needle are supplied, along with some simple diagrams (visible above) which represent symbolically the spacecraft's origin and instructions for playing the disk. The exotic construction of the disks should provide them with a long lifetime as they coast through interstellar space. The two spacecraft will not make a close approach to another planetary system for at least 40,000 years.

Tomorrow's picture: Greetings from the Pioneers

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