Scientists are beginning to wonder: Was it really such a good idea to give aliens maps leading back to Earth?
They’re talking about the pulsar maps, created by astronomer Frank Drake, that were included with the Golden Records and Pioneer Plaques we launched into space back in the 1970s.
Drake, known for his famous Drake Equation and the Arecibo Message, recently reflected on this possibility of alien consequences during an interview with his daughter, Nadia Drake, for National Geographic.
“In those days,” he told her, “All the people I dealt with were optimists, and they thought the ETs would be friendly.” No one ever thought, he said, that sending anything out into space could be dangerous.
That’s not to say it is dangerous, of course. But some, including Drake, have begun to question if it’s such a great idea to broadcast our existence, not knowing whether potential extraterrestrials are friend or foe.
Somewhere Out There
The Pioneer Plaques, launched with Pioneer 10 in 1972 and Pioneer 11 in 1973, consist of two gold-anodized aluminum plaques, each containing information that would be useful to any alien civilizations out there searching for life in the universe.
They have drawings of a man and a woman, as well as symbols denoting our solar system and its planets.
Most importantly, they each contain a diagram of the Sun’s relative position to the center of the galaxy and 14 pulsars, which could allow aliens to locate us.
“The radial pattern on the left of the plaque shows 15 lines emanating from the same origin. Fourteen of the lines have corresponding long binary numbers, which stand for the periods of pulsars, using the hydrogen spin-flip transition frequency as the unit. Since these periods will change over time, the epoch of the launch can be calculated from these values.”
Another fun fact: The plaques are actually attached to the outside of the spacecrafts, on their antennae.
As for the Golden Records, they’re a bit more complicated. They are, as their name implies, actual records sent out into the universe aboard the Voyager spacecrafts in 1977. They contain all sorts of things: Images, audio recordings of nature, music, text. Even Morse code and a one-hour-long recording of Ann Druyan’s brainwaves.
The Golden Records also contain Drake’s pulsar map.
There’s not too much to worry about, though. Voyager 1 only just entered interstellar space back in 2012, and, when radio contact ceased in 2003, Pioneer 10 was about 12 billion kilometers from Earth. It’s unlikely aliens will bump into any of those spacecraft for quite some time, if ever. Certainly not while any of us are around.
Even so, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to consider our extraterrestrial outreach in the future.