Are You There, Aliens? New Horizons Has A Message For You

By Joelle Renstrom | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old

new_horizonsIf you happened to encounter some aliens, what would you say (presuming they can translate/understand your human language)? Maybe the first thing would be, “Please don’t kill me,” but after a while you’d probably have a lot of questions about their civilization and technology, and what took them so long to make contact with humans. NASA has been asking itself the same question, especially as its New Horizons spacecraft prepares to finish studying Pluto next summer and head deeper into space. When it embarks on that journey, it will take with it a message for whomever or whatever it may encounter.

The message will stream to the craft next year, after it wraps up its Pluto mission. The message isn’t exactly something you could stick into a bottle — it’s really a digital record of sounds and images that would give its recipient an indication of what life on planet Earth is like. The information will resemble the Golden Record carried by the Voyager probes which were launched in 1977, and which are currently traveling through interstellar space. Both spacecraft carry messages on 12-inch, gold-plated copper disks. The contents were selected carefully by a committee that included Carl Sagan, and they represent a cultural cross-section of life on Earth: images, sounds, 55 greetings in different languages, and music.

The design director of that project, Jon Lomberg, launched an online campaign called the New Horizons Message Initiative to include a similar message when he learned New Horizon would be following Voyager 1 and 2 out of the solar system. The thing is, by the time Lomberg did this, New Horizons was already in space. So instead of putting together Voyager Golden Record 2.0, Lomberg suggesting sending information to the spacecraft to create a digital Voyager Record 2.0. After collecting over 10,000 signatures (including LeVar Burton’s), NASA gave the project the thumbs up. NASA will make an official announcement on August 25 about submissions for the digital record.

golden record cover
Golden record cover

Yep, submissions. This means that instead of a small group of astronomers and scientists deciding what information to put in the message, regular ol’ folks like us will have the opportunity to chip in. The message will essentially be crowdsourced, and Lomberg will collect ideas, images, and other data from people for potential inclusion in the finished product. People will be able to vote for the information they want to include, Lomberg and his team will edit the selections (no porn, I guess), and NASA will make the final selections.

Then, when New Horizons sends all of its Pluto-related data back to Earth, thus freeing up some of its memory, we’ll upload the message. And, over the course of the spacecraft’s travels, we can update that information if we’re so inclined, so you’ve got some time to think about what you want to say to the extra-terrestrials.