What will other life forms think of humankind when they bump into Voyager 1?

It’s fascinating news that the first manmade object has left the solar system. It is, of course, the satellite probe Voyager 1 which was launched as long ago as 5 September 1977. Some scientists are still not convinced that its current position is really outside the solar system, but this is a technical argument that will soon be irrelevant.

The Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The discs carry photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from people such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States and a medley, “Sounds of Earth”, that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a collection of music including works by MozartBlind Willie JohnsonChuck Berry‘s “Johnny B. Goode“, Valya Balkanska and other Eastern and Western classics and ethnic performers.

Now I’m not at all sure that there are currently any other forms of intelligent life out there ready to access this material. Certainly we have absolutely no evidence to that effect. But, say that some alien came across Voyager today. What would it make of humankind? Already the the computers on board the probe have 240,000 times less memory than an iPhone. So these Little Green Men are going to think: “Gee, these guys haven’t even invented the smartphone yet”.

In fact, there is absolutely no chance of other life forms coming across Voyager any time soon. Although the probe is travelling at 11 miles per second, it will not reach the nearest star for another 40,000 years. Scientists do not belivee that any of the nearest stars can support life. So the probe will need to travel for many hundreds of thousands of years before there is any chance of it coming across another planet sustaining life.

Of course, that assumes that the other life form is sitting there waiting; it might have invented a form of space travel which enables it to come across Voyager in a lesser period of time. However, by then, humankind may not longer exist and the only record that we ever existed will be on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Depending on how long it takes for such an encounter to occur, Earth itself may no longer exist. And, if there are actually no other life forms around to pick up the Voyagers, they will simply travel on and on and on …..


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