What sounds and pictures tell the story of humanity? Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at an attempt to create a record of all of life on earth.

Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Follow along on YouTube
Voice 3  

“I am the Secretary General of the United Nations. This is an organization that represents almost all of the humans of the planet Earth. I send greetings from the people of our planet. We step out of our Solar System into the Universe, seeking only peace and friendship. We know that our planet is a small part of this Universe that surrounds us. It is with humility and hope that we take this step.”

Voice 1  

This message was recorded in 1977 by the leader of the United Nations. The people making the recording wanted the message to last a long time. The best form at the time was a hard plastic disc, or vinyl record. However, to make it last longer, they made the record out of gold! They expected this record to survive for billions of years! Then they placed two copies of this “golden record” on two Voyager Space ships. There were no people on either ship.

Voice 2  

The Voyager ships were launched into space later in 1977. They began to travel away from the earth at a speed of 16 kilometres each second. Thirty-five years later, in 2012, Voyager 1 finally left earth’s solar system. Today’s Spotlight is on the Golden Record each Voyager contained.

Voyager 1 trajectory in the sky from earth from 1977-2030, taken from https://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov ephemeris export
By Tomruen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64544828
Voice 1  

Carl Sagan was one of the most famous astronomers of his time. He studied stars and planets. In 1976, he created a message to send into space. If people from other planets ever found it, this message would represent all of life on earth. Sagan thought this was a good idea. But there were some questions. What language best represented the whole earth? Should the message include music? What would sounds of nature mean to people from other planets?

Voyager 1, by an artist. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Voice 2  

Sagan gathered together a few people he knew to help him choose the material. This was not an easy job. There was no Internet to search. Timothy Ferris was one of the people helping Sagan. He wrote about this for the New Yorker magazine.

Voice 4  

“We had to get physical copies of every recording we hoped to listen to or include. This was easy for American music. But we wanted things from all over the world; Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Congo, Japan, the Navajo Nation, Peru, and the Solomon Islands. It was difficult, involving, and wonderful work.”

Voice 1  

Finding the audio was the first challenge. Choosing what to include was the second. The work was complex. They could not add everything they wanted. There was a limited amount of space.

Voice 2  

The work took less than a year to complete. But when the team was finished they believed they had captured all human life. There were 115 pictures. There were greetings in 55 languages. There were 12 minutes of sounds from Earth and 90 minutes of music.

Read about the Golden Record

Voice 1  

The pictures include many different things. There is the structure of human DNA. Two people eating and drinking. Olympic runners in motion. There are pictures of the Taj Mahal in India and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. There is also a picture of a page of a book. There are many different pictures of cities, roads, islands, maps, animals and nature.

Voice 2  

The music includes famous songs by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It also includes music from places like Peru, Japan, New Guinea, Bulgaria, Australia, Senegal, and Mexico.

Voice 1  

The sounds on the Golden record include volcanoes, earthquakes, and thunder. There is wind, rain, and the ocean against the sand. There are crickets and frog sounds. There are footsteps, a heartbeat, and laughter. There is also a tractor, a train, and an airplane. There are also the sounds of a mother and child.

Hear the Golden Record sounds

Voice 2  

There are also spoken greetings from languages all over the world. Some of the greetings are in Arabic, Cantonese, Dutch, Hindi, Italian, Nepali, Russian, Vietnamese and many others. Sagan and his team knew that people in space would not be able to understand these languages. But they show the many different languages in our world.

Voice 1  

But does the Golden Record really represent all life on Earth? The Golden Record was made by a small number of people. These people were all from one part of the world – the United States. They also left out all the war and violence that is often part of human life. They wanted to present a happy, peaceful picture of life on earth. But is it even possible to capture all of life on Earth in this way? Is it worth trying?

Voice 2  

The world has also changed since 1977. One of these changes is the creation of digital media. A small computer can now hold millions of pictures, music and even video. But people from space may not know what to do with this technology. The Golden Record included details of how to use it. These instructions are complex. But they are still simpler than using digital media.

The golden record
Voice 1  

Today, people can listen to a copy of the Golden Record. Alessandra Potenza is a writer for The Verge. She wrote about listening to the first Golden Record. She understood it was not perfect. But she still found it very emotional to listen to.

Voice 5  

“I could not stop thinking how amazing it is to be part of this planet. I do not know what people from space would think of us if they ever found the Voyager Golden Record. Maybe it would make no sense to them. To me, the Golden Record shows me how beautiful our planet is and how special of a home it is. It is also a reminder that we should take better care of it.”

Voice 2  

What would you want to include if you were making a new Golden Record? Would you include things about our violence and war? Or would you only include happy, peaceful things? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Some of the recordings in this program came from the Golden Record. Visit our website to find links to these recordings.

Voice 2  

You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘The Golden Record’.

Voice 1  

Look for our free listening app in the Google Play Store and in iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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If you had to explain earth to a person who had never been here, how would you explain it? What kinds of sounds and pictures would you include? Write your answer below.

Join the discussion

  • So interesting, I didn’t know about it. If I could explain the earth, I could say that it’s a blue planet full of different people seeking to understand themselves. It’s a colorful world with trees, many animals, oceans, sand, rivers, wind, sun, delicious fruits, smelling flowers and a only moon. There are some wrong things, but I guess that everything worth us.

  • Our plant is very very beautiful, there is amazing nature that is difficult to describe .
    There is amazing beach , A cloud a green fores that is full of living and diverse creatures.
    Our plant the least that is said about it is great and amazing. ❤️❤️

  • While waiting to establish friendly relationships with peoples of other planets, we could train ourselves to improve brotherhood with the peoples of this earth. Furthermore, for the success of future relations with aliens, it would be prudent not to make known our history of encounters between different peoples.

  • Very beautiful, this topic attracted me. a lot and it is the solar system.
    My daughter is more interested in space than I am. I think I learned from you today in this golden record many things

    thank you

  • May I’ll say hi foreigner welcome to our beautiful planet . This planet contains many different creatures . You can see creatures able to move like humans, animals , plants and a small creatures called insects .. or creatures that can’t move like mountains . Every creature here live in different system . And we although a big difference among us but we are completing each other and living with each other in amazing system .

    I would include a sound of nature, animals , music and different languages , I’ll try to include a peace and bright side in our planet .

  • If i need explain an earth life ,first i will make a vedioes include al cultures and sides of our life , i will include a sound of natural , water , winds , rains , birds , and i will make a vlog about daily humman life , also i will include the food and our technology , transportation , all of our life

  • that is a question very hard I never heard before, but I love this question because they are meant for human life. scientists also try to make some way that explains earth to a person who had never been on the earth. but finally, I still do not know to have another way yet, I wonder when scientists send these things so how long have they receive

  • If I were in their place, I wouldn’t send anything into space for fear that it might fall into the hands of malevolent creatures who could invade Earth out of greed.

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