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Yesterday morning as I was about to leave the house I heard the last 2 minutes of an NPR Valentine story that sounded like a love story with a cosmic/scientific twist.
Something about compressing the impulses of the brain and nervous system of a person "newly in love", and then putting that sound on a record and hurtling it out into space--a billion miles away--to one day be discovered by another civilization. What?
The story ended with narrator Renee Montagne almost speechless, saying: "Gosh that is so romantic. I mean...your brain and body in love, hurtling through the cosmos for the next billion years."
I had to know "the rest of the story".
So, with a little hunting I found this Valentine story of love, and outer space, and this tiny gold record that is the ultimate sound mix of love: the sound of a kiss, a mother's first words to her newborn child, music from all over the world, Mozart, Beethoven, greetings in 59 different languages (Bonjour, Shalom), a "hello" from the children of planet Earth, and even non-human language--the greetings of the humpback whale.
As Ann Druyan, the creator of this cosmic mix that's aboard the Voyager says, "And it was a sacred undertaking, because it was saying we want to be citizens of the cosmos. We want you to know about us.
The 12-inch gold-plated records contain greetings in 59 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and human-made sounds from Earth. One record is currently 16.89 billion km from Earth, the other is over 13 billion km away.
To hear and see everything on these golden records--that are still hurtling through space, click here.
For a montage of Sagan and Druyan's golden record--aka Carl & Annie's Earth Guide for Aliens, watch the video below. If you aren't seeing it on the screen, just click here.
by Soren Wheeler and Jad Abumrad click here for the NPR site
My suggestion: Listen to the story. Hearing Annie Druyan tell it herself beats reading it--hands-down!
This is a love story. And, oddly enough, it starts with an interstellar space mission and a golden record.
Toward the end of the summer of '77, NASA launched two spacecraft as part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission. On board each craft was a golden record that included, among other things, the sound of a kiss, a mother's first words to her newborn child, music from all over the world, and greetings in 59 different languages. The spacecraft were designed to take close-up pictures of Jupiter and Saturn, then continue into the great expanse of space beyond our solar system. The records on board were meant to survive for a billion years, in the hope that some day, against enormous odds, they might cross paths with an alien civilization.
So how do you decide what to put on the ultimate mix tape of the human experience? What do you do if you have one shot at describing humanity to an unknown life form? That was the charge of Carl Sagan — astronomer, astrophysicist and famed popularizer of science. Of course, Sagan had a lot of help, including the creative director of the project, Ann Druyan.
It was a chance to tell something of what life on Earth was like to beings of perhaps 1,000 million years from now," Druyan says. "If that didn't raise goose bumps, then you'd have to be made out of wood."
For Druyan, though, the summer of 1977 and the Voyager project carry a deeply personal meaning, too. It was during the Voyager project that she and Sagan fell in love.
After searching endlessly for a piece of Chinese music to put on the record, Druyan had finally found a 2,500-year-old song called "Flowing Stream." In her excitement, she called Sagan and left a message at his hotel. At that point, Druyan and Sagan had been professional acquaintances and friends, but nothing more. But an hour later, when Sagan called back, something happened. By the end of that call, Druyan and Sagan were engaged to be married.
"We both hung up the phone, and I just screamed out loud," says Druyan, "It was this great eureka moment. It was like a scientific discovery." The first of the Voyager project's two spacecraft launched on Aug. 20, 1977. Druyan and Sagan announced their engagement two days later. They married in 1981, and were together until Sagan's death in December 1996.
But the evidence of their love has taken on a life of its own. Not long after that serendipitous phone call, Druyan had an idea for the record: They could measure the electrical impulses of a human brain and nervous system, turn it into sound, and put it on the record. Then maybe, 1,000 million years from now, some alien civilization might be able to turn that data back into thoughts.
So, just a few days after she and Sagan declared their love for each other, Druyan went to Bellevue Hospital in New York City and meditated while the sounds of her brain and body were recorded.
According to Druyan, part of what she was thinking during that meditation was about "the wonder of love, of being in love." And the gold records? They're still out there with their offer, to whomever might stumble across them, of a human body newly in love.
"Whenever I'm down, " says Druyan, "I'm thinking: And still they move, 35,000 miles an hour, leaving our solar system for the great open sea of interstellar space."
Story postscript: In 1990 Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn the Voyager around after Pluto, before it ventured into empty space, and take one last picture of our galaxy. And what was that day? Valentines' Day!
What Would Go Into Your Valentine's Day Mix?
After listening to Annie and Carl's story I'm thinking about the 8mm home movie mix and the accompanying audio-cassette musical mix my husband played for me in December 1970 when he proposed.
I really want to see it again! The 8mm movie was converted to a videocassette many years back--but now we no longer have a videotape player. And the audio-cassette which was filled with the music of the Moody Blue's and who knows what else from 40 years ago just might be buried in a box in our attic--or not. Hope it didn't get pitched when my husband cleaned out the attic 2 months ago.
Right now my husband is in Honduras doing volunteer dental work. He returns late tomorrow night--on Valentine's Day. I hope I can dig up that video and audio-cassette--or was it an 8-track tape?
Now that would be some Valentine's Day gift!
And I almost forgot, this sage advice comes from Rhett Ellis' wacky book, How I Fell in Love with a Librarian and Lived to Tell About It:
"We've all got our good and bad sides. If you want to find love and joy in this lifetime you've got to live by mercy. Focus on the best in people and ignore all the bad that you can ignore. It's really that simple."
Happy Valentine's Day!!
Best Advice--Stay Away From the Chocolates (nah, go ahead, it's just one day)