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Western Slope Skies - Wonders of the Voyager

The Voyager's eye captures the Great Red Spot and other storms on Jupiter

Since humanity first opened its eyes, we have reached towards the mystery of the night sky. Our oldest cultures and newest ideologies still revere the enigma of the stars above. Its omnipresence challenged us to climb to its height, inspired us to feats of incredible engineering, and served as muse to artists for countless generations.

NASA alone has sent 135 manned shuttles and over 250 robotic craft into the void above our atmosphere, with countless other missions coming from across the globe. But perhaps the crowning vessel among these is the Voyager. Sent on a mission to the fringes of the sun’s gravitational influence, to explore the frontiers of our small haven of the spiral arms of the Milky Way, the Voyager missions have yielded numerous discoveries, both incredible and humbling.

In addition to exploring the greater universe, the Voyagers took a piece of their home with them. This piece took the form of a gold-plated disk that details not just our location by way of a pulsar diagram depicting our nearest pulsars and their exact distance, but also a sample of uranium-238 that serves as an atomic clock to age the disk by a measure of time that is also described symbolically; the time it takes for a hydrogen atom to switch between its two base states (roughly .70 billionths of a second). However, upon its surface are also inscribed instructions for how to play the disk. For it is not just a simple plate; it is a phonograph record, which contains greetings in 55 languages, from ancient Akkadian spoken in Sumeria to the Wu dialect of modern Chinese. It also holds sounds of nature; of whales, birds, waves and wind. It holds over an hour of music, from classics from across the globe to folk music of near extinct cultures. But perhaps the most impressive piece locked away in the record are not sounds at all, but images, encoded as a set of signals whose decoding instructions are also inscribed upon the disk’s golden surface.

This message carried a subtler meaning; hope. It is the pride of humanity to state so boldly that our Voyager may one day be found and understood by other denizens of the universe, and that they may be spurred by our grand display to track down that pale blue dot from which it came.

Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Caelan Jessop, an astronomy student of Dr. Catherine Whiting at Colorado Mesa University.