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OneEarth Message Starts Writing a Postcard to Aliens

Artists and scientists are making progress on a project that's aimed at preserving the highlights of humanity's history and culture for the cosmos.
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/ Source: NBC News

Thirty-eight years after the Voyager spacecraft sent a sampler of Earth's cultural riches into outer space, some of the folks who were involved in that project have begun assembling the content for a 21st-century sequel called the OneEarth Message.

Right now, they're just taking names as part of a crowdfunding effort, but eventually they plan to crowdsource a compilation of Earth's sights and sounds, to be packaged in a form that extraterrestrials could understand.

"We're trying to build up the buzz and get people ready," said Jon Lomberg, who collaborated with astronomer Carl Sagan on Voyager's Golden Record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk that was inscribed with audio and image data like a phonograph record.

The OneEarth Message would be packaged differently — as a 150-megabyte digital file, to be beamed up to NASA's New Horizons probe after it's completed its scientific survey of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

NASA still has to give its official go-ahead for the plan, but Lomberg told NBC News that the OneEarth team has already gotten started on the logistics for designing the message — and for giving Earth's residents a say over what will be included. Lomberg said the message would be encoded in a format that's robust enough to survive in New Horizons' memory banks for at least 100,000 years, and perhaps a million years.

Lomborg admits there's no way of knowing whether the OneEarth Message will ever reach an alien audience. "But we do know it will reach the people on Earth," he said. "In the long run, it may be that for most people, the thing they remember the most about the mission is the message."

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— Alan Boyle