We decoded NASA’s messages to aliens by hand

We decoded NASA’s messages to aliens by hand


(electronic music) – In 1977, NASA sent two golden records into space aboard the Voyager
One and Two spacecraft. The Voyager probes have become two of the farthest reaching objects
ever launched by humanity. And the golden records,
real functioning LPs, contained something utterly unique: audio and images from Earth. By 2030, both Voyager One and Two will cease communications for good. And while they won’t be
able to beam information back to Earth, they’re going to continue sailing through space at almost
60,000 kilometers per hour. The hopes are that one or even both of these records will be intercepted by another advanced civilization, revealing a treasure trove of information that will teach whoever finds them about our pale blue dot of
a home, light years away. But in order for any one or any thing to see the images contained on the record, they’ll have to decode this.
(electronic tones) And we’re going to show you how. (electronic tones) (electric music) If extraterrestrials do
find the golden records, the first thing they’ll come across is its cover which looks a lot like this. It contains a handful of unique symbols that properly explain how to play the messages sent from Earth. And at first glance,
they’re pretty complicated. I tried to think how would an
alien look at this picture? And there are always two requirements. You wanted things to be as easy as possible to understand,
as clear as possible. But you also wanted in a limited number of pictures to have as much information as possible in each picture, so those two requirements are kind of at odds. That’s Jon Lomberg, Carl Sagan’s long-time friend and collaborator. Jon helped curate the contents of the golden record
and designed the cover. – It’s permeated the culture
in a lot of different ways. – The largest of the designs
on the cover is the pulsar map. It helps explain our
location in the universe by triangulating the Earth’s distance from various neutron
stars, collapsed stars that give off pulses of
radiation or pulsars. While this information doesn’t
help decode the record, it would give anyone who finds it a clue as to where it
came from in the universe. Every other symbol on the cover though is there to explain how to properly play the record and decode the audio. Getting the songs and sounds to play are pretty straightforward. Figure out the correct rotation and speed and they’ll spin just like a
normal record here on Earth. Granted for an alien figuring out how to work the record might
be a challenge in itself. – That should be very
easy for them to discover. But that’s not all that’s on the record. And understanding the rest
of it is a little bit harder. – You might think that the images included on the Voyager spacecraft were printed out or included
in some digital form. But the golden record
isn’t a digital disc. There are no jpegs or tifs included on it. The Voyager’s computer systems
were only 69 kilobytes large, barely enough for one
image, let alone 115. – And at that time in 1977 there was no conventional technology for putting pictures on adeline discs. – NASA had to be a lot craftier with the technology that they
had available at the time. Especially with the amount of data they were looking to send and they managed to encode that image data within the audio waveforms themselves. But in order for us to find that data, we need to figure out the rest of the symbols on the cover of the record. Starting on the bottom right we have a diagram depicting hydrogen, the most abundant gas in the universe. I spoke with Jacqueline Van Gorkom, a professor of astronomy
at Columbia University. She explained to me that
once in a blue moon, the electron in a hydrogen atom changes the direction of its spin. – And so this transition which happens spontaneously once every 10 million years, it makes a little bit of energy. So it emits at 21 centimeter wavelengths. – The hydrogen atom depicted on the cover of the record is undergoing
that very unique change, called a hyper-fine transition. And what it emits, the 21 centimeter line, is a very specific radio wavelength that astronomers use to map
the galaxy, 1420 megahertz. – It’s sort of mind-boggling. – NASA uses that 21 centimeter line as a constant for all the
other symbols on the record. If you convert that 1420
megahertz signal into seconds, you get 7.042 times 10 to
the negative 10 seconds. Or .7 nanoseconds, and that one number helps us unlock the rest
of the record’s symbols. For instance here’s a
side-view of the record that depicts this binary
number around its diameter. When converted to decimal and multiplied by our hydrogen line constant, we get 3229 seconds or
roughly 53.82 minutes. The total run time of the
record from beginning to end. And on the top-down view, converting this binary number to
decimal and multiplying by .7 nanoseconds you get 3.59 seconds. The time it would take for
one rotation of the record. So when we play the record that fast, we should hear these sounds. Greetings in 55 languages.
(speaking foreign language) Samples of music from around the world. (“Dark was the Night”
by Blind Willie Johnson) Sounds of Earth such as oceans, birds, thunder and whales.
(waves crashing) And on the other side, this.
(electronic tones) It’s that sound that contains all of the image data for the photos and drawings contained
on the golden record. And using the process described
in the last few symbols on the cover, we can render the images. This is where things
get really interesting. The top right symbol shows
how the waveform data should be broken up with each section of the waveform taking
.008 seconds to play. And according to the symbol below that, each of those sections of data completes one out of a
total of 512 scan lines that make up a completed image. – To understand the rest of that diagram, you have to understand
how an old-fashioned cathode-ray tube television worked. And few enough people understood it at the time when they were still in use. Fewer understand it now.
– And while I don’t understand cathode ray tubes,
I tried an alternate method. Using Audacity, a free audio program, I selected .008 milliseconds of audio data between each peak in the waveform roughly corrosponding to the area selected on the cover of the album. I exported that data into a CSV file. The data being exported is essentially just number values based on the volume of waveforms at different points along that .008 millisecond section. When you import the CSV into Excel, you can use conditional
formatting to assign a different color value for
different decibel levels. Lower decibel samples
translate into lighter grays and higher decibels into
darker grays and after doing this for 12 hours and
512 times, we got this. Now a circle isn’t the most
exciting thing in the world. But it has a very important purpose. If we look at the last
image on the record’s cover, we’ll see the calibration circle. It’s a major way point, if aliens manage to decode a shape that matches this, then they’ll know that
they’re onto something. There’s no way we’re going to do that for the remaining 114 images. But fortunately we live in a world where code can help, and
maybe aliens will too. We reached out to Manuel Arturo Izquierdo, an anthropologist who wrote his own code in one night to make this
process much, much faster. – Basically the idea is
take a thread of numbers and fold them in a way you can convert the thread into a kind of surface, yeah? – Manuel’s code takes these
.008 millisecond symbols and folds them as they would appear in an old television
set, rendering an image. He uploaded the code to
Github for others to use and Emily Malec Brown, a
developer on our product team, helped get the code up and
running on my computer. To our astonishment, the images appeared right before our eyes, proving that even 40 years later and with completely different technology, the messages could still
be properly decoded. (“Dark was the Night”
by Blind Willie Johnson) So with the help of an astronomer, an artist, a coder, an anthropologist, Microsoft Excel, and Python, we were able to decode the golden record. But let’s not forget, we’re not the intended audience for this. Is an extraterrestrial civilization really going to have a shot at this? For John that’s really besides the point. – Whatever happens to it in space, whatever its unknown destiny is, I think it represents a high
water mark of our civilization when we dreamed the
biggest dreams, really. And I hope it will serve as an example, an inspiration for
people to keep dreaming. (acoustic guitar music) – Hey everyone, thanks
for watching our video. Check out Vox.com’s golden record video where they have a selection of the images and some of the audio and
songs that played as well. And don’t forget to subscribe to our Verge Science YouTube channel, thanks.

100 Comments

  1. Has anyone ever thought that WE are the aliens in the universe and that there are other species' out there that are trying to find us? I mean, we ARE considered intelligent life…

  2. Aliens Found the Disc in 2019: Don't these fools know how to use insta?, I don't even have a disc player, gotta ask grandfather for it.

  3. If you were to ask my opinion, it's all about disclosure of the "aliens" (fallen angels) they are informing the public more and more about them, "coming to earth from another planet, and that they are our creators!" Find God's truth and accept the Lord Jesus Christ, into your heart to become Lord and Savior of your life, He will Save your soul and protect you in this life from evil! God bless you!

  4. Plot Twist: Gold is considered a symbolic message as a declaration of War in Alien civilizations.

    Earth: We just wanted you Aliens to hear our music!

  5. Couldn’t they have etched images on Gold Tablets since paper books would have their images fade due to radiation in space. Just etch them in Tablets?

  6. I cannot understand a shit, when he explains, what those symbols means. And i am from Earth. Well, good luck, anyway.

  7. Imagine when the message arrive to some planet but the alien who discovered it still hasn't invent electricity yet. And they broke it down and used it for the wrong porpoise.

  8. …if they sent those out into space…how do you have them?

    Sees pulsar map
    😱WhY WoULd ThEy TeLl ThEm WhErE wE ArE?!😵😫😤😭

  9. I wouldn't be able to decipher that fucking code if my life depended on it.
    a picture book would have been more efficient.

  10. And Hawkings was right. It's almost like painting a target over "Our" Earth planet. Maybe an intelligent alien intercepted it and kept it from getting in the wrong hands ?

  11. This post was sponsored by the military yet they have homeless vets and a suicide problem due to seeking out to Big Pharma and theses people want to speak to aliens? Bob Marley was so right…so much trouble in the world. Listen to Steel Pulse – Wild Goose Chase https://youtu.be/R6ftiDnCtVk 🕍✊🏾

  12. Even normal people like me cant understand that
    🤣 Lwal how the fck some animals without nose and ears will understand 😂🍌

  13. @VergeScience – FYI… You selected 0.008 seconds of audio in Audacity. 0.008s = 8/1000s = 8ms. Not "0.008 milliseconds" — 8 milliseconds or 0.008 seconds.

  14. Smart people think they know everything and put all they know on a record that is meaningless. Should have just sent a gold plate up with an image of a Marijuana plant and a bottle of beer. We prob would have had contact by now.

  15. Humans:*Sends a a probe across space to deliver a complex message about the human race and earth and takes years to travel*

    Aliens reply:

    Um bro we have phones.. could’ve just asked for the number

  16. Um… "auto play"..
    Saves a whole heap of explanation in how to use it, i mean lets hope an other worldly dinosaur does not find it first.

  17. I was thinking the same that the record instructions are unreadable and it was just Nasa wanting to show off our intelligence, but then again it may be on purpose to make sure that the race that does find the record has the intelligence to decipher and get the data , such an intelligent society would be more likely to be scientifically minded and therefore a peaceful race. We dont want easy instructions to our location in the universe to be discovered by a primitive war hungry race.

  18. We can see pretty damn far but no life yet. We have to send these objects past that distance, into an unknown path where it can be crushed by the gravity of large planets, melted by stars, pummelled by debree yet might not even be going in the right direction, nor be understood or replied to (by choice or limitation) if it does reach other life. They say nothing is impossible, so does that mean something being impossible is possible?, sending messages to aliens like this and expecting results is a good attempt on that theory.

  19. Just let me tell u all this one thing… I am human here on earth.but when i sleep in my dreams i am an eternal soul. Aliens. Lol.. Every alien inthe world cannot breath air. Like fish they cannot breath air.. So like us they must adapt an animal body or remain invisible

  20. The golden disc is the dumbest project I've ever heard of.

    That thing is out there in the vacuum, never ever to be found by anyone or anything. If it ever even makes it to an another system, it's eventually gonna be destroyed on impact. And how many billions of dollars were wasted on it…

  21. Earthlings: here is the golden CD of our human data

    Alien: where can we buy the CD player for this? Or you want us to download a torrent for this?👽👽👽

  22. Alien finds disc, looks for manual. no manual, can’t decode like most human. Gets frustrated, invades Earth and destroys human race

  23. 01000101 00101110 01010100 00100000 01110111 01101111 01110101 01101100 01100100 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01100010 01100001 01100010 01101100 01111001 00100000 01110011 01100001 01111001 00101100 00100000 01110111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100110 01110101 01100011 01101011 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110011 01101000 01101001 01110100 00100001

  24. "Huhuhu ThE AliEnS PrObABlY WoN'T DeCoDe ThiS" " THe AliEnS SHOuLd JuSt GoGgLe iT LmAo" "JuSt AiRdRoP ThE iMaGE LmAO" 🤪🤪🤪🤪🤪I'm very quirky hahhaahahah "99% oF HuMaNs DON't uNDeRsTANd THiS LMaO"

  25. How are they going to intercept, let alone notice something that is travelling 60k / kmh. Even with the tech, you might mistake it for space debris or a small asteroid???

  26. I wouldnt know the first thing to do, all that math where the heck am I supposed to start let alone a bunch of aliens

  27. I thought I will hear the decoded messages from the outside of the world and that this host(man) always keeps on talking and talking about things we all don't understand. What's with this video anyways? It doesn't help.

  28. That was funny when you started to describe your "alternate method"… of what? rendering the visual images? breaking up the waveform data? understanding cathode ray tubes? That wasn't too clear. You would've done better to try and explain CRT operation (which isn't all THAT hard to understand) rather than delve into your comfort realm with the allusions to Audacity, CSV files and Excel; which will make no sense whatever–in terms of basic physics–to someone who hasn't used them. Good video!

  29. I believe that Voyager won't make it to an alien civilization. In the future we would be able to send more useful and better communications.
    I believe that one day humans with better transportation will recover Voyager and maybe they won't remember how we coded things, they'll have to decode it.

  30. WTF yall wasted so much money launching this into space. Aliens will never be able decode this shit. Now that we have improved technology we should send another one to space. With easy and simple steps.

  31. Ah shit . Could they just put an album physical image inside the voyager? Or some audio player that runs in 1 click, This is hard to decode

  32. It is not known by human easily……
    So have alien translate this so how is alien translate this if it is not suitable for human

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