How to decode the images on the Voyager Golden Record

Editor's note: Forty years ago today, NASA launched Voyager 1, the second of two spacecraft on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Attached to each spacecraft is a Golden Record containing Earth's greatest music, spoken greetings, "Sounds of Earth," and more than 100 images encoded as audio signals, a technological feat at the time. Technical director Frank Drake had always planned to encode the photos in the audio spectrum for the record. The challenge was finding technology capable of the task. While flipping through an electronics catalog, Valentin Boriakoff, Drake’s colleague at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, stumbled upon Colorado Video, a small television equipment firm in Boulder that had built a unique device for encoding television images as audio signals that could be transmitted over telephone lines. Donating their time and expertise to the project, engineers at Colorado Video projected each Voyager slide onto a television camera lens, generating a signal that their machine converted into several seconds of sound per photo. A diagram on the aluminum cover of the Golden Record explains how to play it and decode the images. Four decades later, Ron Barry followed the instructions.

How I decoded the images on the Voyager Golden Record

The video above is a decoding of more than 100 images that were packed into the audio channels of a record that was placed on each of the Voyager spacecraft. How does one pack data into audio? (Remember modems?) This article doesn’t answer that question directly, but it does attempt to reproduce the efforts an alien would go through to recover those images. Read the rest