The space probe Pioneer 10 is 39 years into its epic 2 million year journey towards the star Aldebaran.
It seems to have run out of juice though as we lost contact with it in 2003, while it was 12 billion kilometers from home. Still, not bad for a project that was intended to last only 21 months. Meanwhile on Earth I can’t keep a charge on my laptop or phone to save my life, and forget receiving any signals when you walk into the bathroom. The dark zone.
Say what you will about digital media and radio signals but I think having a physical memento from Earthlings is going to be pretty cool for any space-bug that intercepts the Pioneer probe, millions of years in the future, long after we blow ourselves up and the Earth heals over, taking with it any terrestrial evidence that we ever existed. Of course after that, the Sun is going to go red-giant on us and engulf the Earth too–but let me stop with the inevitable doomsday scenarios before I get too excited*
The image on the plaques** were created by the Drake Equations very own Frank Drake and also, of course The Sagan. And though the image has indeed been criticized by nit pickers for things like having an arrow, a symbol derived from our hunter gatherer past with no reason to assume extra terrestrials would understand it, I think we could have complicated it even more. ‘cuz why the hell not? There’s also no reason why we should assume they would understand our creation of 2 dimensional boundary representations of 3 dimensional forms which are superimposed on a schematic representation of the probe, which are both superimposed on binary representations of pulsars located in relation to the sun. And though the large probe is relative in size to the humans it is not so in it’s depiction in the solar system diagram nor are the planets, nor the hydrogen atom up top.
I don’t find any of these ‘issues’ deleterious to this classic, inspiring image though. It’s incredibly elegant. If aliens can make sense of it all I might even forgive the lack of female genitals.***
This is the best thing I’ve seen all day, and it’s only noon (That’s the kind of optimism that pervades my life). I feel like Nadir’s drawing is the sort of Pioneer Disc that Stephen Hawking would send out—and what a great movie that would make. Picture this: A galactic federation receives threatening boasts of superiority from probes sent out from across the galaxy, and prepares for the worst. At the climax of the film, they find out that a scared man in a wheelchair was behind it all. That’s Twilight Zone shit right there. I want movie rights!
Additionally, Nadir’s concerns about our historical posterity as a species are well founded. Estimates say that all evidence of our civilization will disappear in as little as 100,000 years. Intelligent life forms could visit the earth less than a million years after we’ve gone and conclude that no intelligent life ever existed there. That’s scary.
That’s why the type of forethought put in by Drake and Sagan gets me so giddy. But I feel like they took a half-measure. Let me put on my Evil Carl Sagan hat for a second here…
Why just a cheesy record of long-dead people saying “hello”? We should be sending DNA out there. Tons of it. I’m talking about old-school, British Empire style, panspermic bukkake. Due to the vast distances of space, it is infeasible for living humans to colonize the cosmos, so some have turned to the idea of seeding the universe with Earth-like life instead—most likely fungi and extremophile bacteria. Ya know, stuff that could utterly ruin an existing ecosystem and replace it with one more like early Earth’s.
With no regard for the native lifeforms of the galaxy, we could launch probe after probe with the sole purpose of genetic conquest. It may not be humans colonizing space, but who knows, over time, perhaps those genetic lines will develop into something resembling humans. Probably not. But rest assured, galactic travelers will find all these worlds with the same DNA on them and surmise that some cosmic asshats just couldn’t live with being forgotten. It’s so villainous, it could probably work.
This post was brought to you by Plutonium (Pu).
**Plural because there were two, one on Pioneer 10 and one on 11.
***Even though this seems to have been unnecessary self-censorship on the designers part in regards to NASA approval, the peanut gallery would almost certainly have made mad frowny faces. “Cosmic-Camel-Toe?! Oh my stars and garters.”