"Old gas blob from Uranus found in vintage Voyager 2 data"

Yes, that is actually Space.com's brilliant headline on this story about a new discovery from data collected in 1986 by NASA's intrepid spacecraft. When the probe neared Uranus (heh heh), it measured the planet's surrounding magnetic field. Recently, NASA scientists Gina DiBraccio and Daniel Gershman analyzing Voyager's old data found a "wobble" in Uranus's magnetosphere indicating a plasmoid, a bubble of plasma traveling away from the planet. From Space.com:

Scientists have studied these structures at Earth and nearby planets, but never at Uranus or its neighbor Neptune, since Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to date ever to visit those planets.

Scientists want to know about plasmoids because these structures can pull charged particles out of a planet's atmosphere and fling them into space. And if you change a planet's atmosphere, you change the planet itself.

And from the "plain language summary" of their scientific paper published in Geophysical Research Letters:

Uranus possesses an intrinsic magnetic field that encircles the planet and influences the local space environment. The solar wind plasma, made up of charged particles, flows away from the Sun and interacts with Uranus' magnetic field to form what is called a “planetary magnetosphere.” By understanding dynamics of the magnetosphere, we are able to learn how changes in the Sun can impact the planet's space environment but also how magnetic fields and plasma are circulated throughout the system. In this work, we analyze data from the Voyager 2 spacecraft during the Uranus flyby in 1986. The data revealed a helical bundle of magnetic flux containing planetary plasma, known as a “plasmoid,” in the tail of the magnetosphere.

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Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot image is 30 years old today

Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 spaceprobe had completed its ncounters with the outer planets and was careening out of our solar system. The time came to shut off the probes' cameras to preserve power and memory for the other onboard scientific instruments. But before engineers flipped the switch, one last photo opportunity was not to be missed. From my liner notes to the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set:

Astronomer and educator Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager Imaging Team, had persuaded NASA engineers to turn Voyager 1’s cameras back toward the sun and take the first-ever portrait of our solar system from beyond its outer boundary. Sixty frames, taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1990, were combined into a single mosaic, known today as the “Solar System Portrait,” albeit with Mars and Mercury lost in the sun’s glare. Centered in a ray of scattered light in the camera’s optics is a tiny speck, just .12 pixels in size: Earth from 6 billion kilometers away—a “pale blue dot,” as Sagan called it. It’s an iconic image that holds the power to shift our perspective in an instant.

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot (1994). “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Please join us in celebrating Carl Sagan's valentine to humanity:

(image: NASA) Read the rest

Extraterrestrials, UFOs, and the Voyager Golden Record

The wonderful Brains On! science podcast for kids just completed a four part series on "Making Sense of Myths" and the final episode, "Aliens and UFOs," includes an interview with me about the Voyager Golden Record! Listen above! Of course the Voyager Golden Record is the iconic message for extraterrestrials attached to the Voyager I and II space probes launched by NASA in 1977. The Voyager Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, music, images, and science, from Bach to Blind Willie Johnson to Chuck Berry, to greetings in dozens of human languages (and one whale language).

A few years ago, my friends Timothy Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I released the Voyager Golden Record on vinyl for the first time, as a lavish box set. Our project's resonance with the public, and the Grammy that we were honored to receive for it, are really a testament to the majesty of the original record and brilliance of its creators.

I hope the story of the Voyager Record included in this Brains On! episode sparks kids' imaginations and instills a sense of wonder about humanity's place in the universe! It certainly does for me.

The Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Vinyl Box Set and 2xCD-Book edition is available from Ozma Records.

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On Adam Savage's Tested: "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and the Voyager Golden Record

In 1979, the USS Enterprise flew onto the big screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Without giving away too much of the plot, NASA's Voyager program that began in 1977 featured prominently in the film. Of course, the real twin Voyager probes carry the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials that my friends Timothy Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I released on vinyl for the first time as a lavish box set.

While the Voyager Record isn't mentioned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I was still delighted when my old pal Ariel Waldman invited me on to her wonderful talk show Offworld, on Adam Savage's Tested channel, to talk about Voyager, the Golden Record, and the heady, awkward, and pretty great Star Trek: The Motion Picture! Even more exciting is that the other guest was Frank Drake, father of the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the technical director of the original Voyager Golden Record! Far out.

The Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Vinyl Box Set and 2xCD-Book edition is available from Ozma Records.

Below: Frank and I scrying with his original copy of the Voyager Record cover.

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Why you definitely want to be on Star Trek: The Cruise IV

I've just returned home from Star Trek: The Cruise, a truly extraordinary fan event for lovers of Science, Science Fiction, and the future.

You really want to be on the next one.

Longtime Boing Boing friend Wil Wheaton headlined the third annual cruise, which this year featured stars from every series of Star Trek from The Next Generation onwards. They, along with thousands of die-hard Star Trek fans took over an entire cruise ship for a week (flying the flag of the United Federated of Planets no less), Taking part in everything from photo and autograph sessions, Science Lectures from experts in the fields of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Game Shows, Q&A sessions, and even a narrated performance of the Scopes Monkey Trial transcript.

But the real reason you should go isn't one of those events.

There's a unique culture behind Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of a utopian future attracts a certain type of fan, and there's something special about putting thousands of like-minded people and the actors who portrayed their most beloved Star Trek characters on a ship for a week. Wil Wheaton put it best in his initial address during our sendoff:

"I have been a fan of Star Trek my entire life. [...] I learned everything that was important to me from the values that Star Trek taught me: I learned to be honest, I learned to be honourable, I learned to be kind. My whole life I've wanted to live in that world that we imagined when we worked on Next Generation, and that I loved to watch when I was a little boy.
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Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space!

NASA's Voyager 2 space probe has officially left our solar system and entered interstellar space. Now more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft has crossed the boundary of the bubble-like heliosphere around the planets and is no longer touched by the plasma wind from our sun. Voyager 2's twin Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012 and continues to send back valuable scientific data via the Deep Space Network.

From NASA:

“I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we've all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth's culture, including film, art and music.

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Save 20% on the Voyager Golden Record 2xCD/Book edition

Last year, my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad and I released the Voyager Golden Record on vinyl for the first time ever and were blown away to win a Grammy Award for the box set. It's really a testament to the creators of the original Voyager Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials launched by NASA in 1977. We were honored to have had the opportunity to bring this stellar artifact to a wider terrestrial audience.

For those who still prefer compact discs, we also published the Voyager Golden Record 2xCD/Book edition! Two audio CDs containing all of the Voyager Golden Record music and sounds are tucked inside a full-color 96-page hardcover book (12” x 12”) featuring all images included on the original Voyager Record, gallery of images transmitted back from the Voyager probes, and an essay by Timothy Ferris, producer of the original Voyager Record.

Today, we're offering 20% off the elegant Voyager Golden Record 2xCD/Book edition. It's a gift sure to spark the imagination.

The sale ends tonight, November 26, at 11:59pm PST.

We also have limited numbers of the Voyager Golden Record 3xLP Box Set, diagram pins, gold foil art prints, and turntable slipmats. Please order by December 9 for delivery in time for Christmas.

Ad astra!

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Voyager 2 spaceprobe may be on the verge of interstellar space

NASA's Voyager 2 space probe, launched in 1977 on a grand tour of the solar system, may be nearing interstellar space. Carrying a message for extraterrestrials, the iconic Golden Record, the Voyager 2 is now about 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth and still sends data back daily from its various sensors. Most recently, it has detected an increase in higher-energy cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. This increase in the rate of cosmic rays indicates that the Voyager 2 may soon break through the heliosphere, the "bubble" of charged particles generated by our sun, and cross into interstellar space. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012.

From the Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

The fact that Voyager 2 may be approaching the heliopause six years after Voyager 1 is also relevant, because the heliopause moves inward and outward during the Sun's 11-year activity cycle. Solar activity refers to emissions from the Sun, including solar flares and eruptions of material called coronal mass ejections. During the 11-year solar cycle, the Sun reaches both a maximum and a minimum level of activity.

"We're seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there's no doubt about that," said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone, based at Caltech in Pasadena. "We're going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don't know when we'll reach the heliopause. We're not there yet -- that's one thing I can say with confidence."

In a decade or so, Voyager 1 and 2 will run out of power and go silent. Read the rest

Happy anniversary, Voyager 1 and the Voyager Golden Record!

On this day in 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. (It followed the launch of Voyager 2 a few weeks earlier.)

Attached to each of these probes is a beautiful golden record containing a message for any extraterrestrial intelligence that might encounter it. This enchanting artifact, officially called the Voyager Interstellar Record, may be the last vestige of our civilization after we are gone forever.

Curated by a committee led by Carl Sagan, the Golden Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad peoples and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Benin percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Natural sounds—birds, a train, a baby’s cry, a kiss—are collaged into a lovely audio poem called "Sounds of Earth." There are spoken greetings in dozens of human languages—and one whale language—and more than 100 images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.

Two years ago, my friends Timothy Daly, Lawrence Azerrad, and I released the Voyager Record to the public on vinyl for the first time as a lavish box set. Our project's resonance with the public, and the Grammy that we were honored to receive for it, are really a testament to the majesty of the original record and the entire Voyager mission. As the original Golden Record's producer, Timothy Ferris, wrote in the liner notes for our box set, the Voyagers are on a journey not just through space but also through time. Read the rest

Magnificent online experience inspired by the Voyager Golden Record supports SETI, Carl Sagan Institute, Astronomers Without Borders

Stephen Canfield and his colleagues at WeTransfer curated a stunning online experience inspired by the Voyager Golden Record, the iconic message for extraterrestrials launched into space on a phonograph record 40 years ago. My friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad and I co-produced the first ever vinyl release of the Voyager Record this year and we were honored to help with WeTransfer's effort, titled A Message from Earth.

A Message To Earth includes newly-commissioned images, art, sound, and words from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Wanda Díaz Merced, Aspen Matis, S U R V I V E, Lawrence Krauss, Fatima Al Qadiri, and Oneohtrix Point Never. It's a beautiful, non-linear exhibition of creative work that embodies the sense of hope, optimism, and goodwill instilled by the original Voyager Record.

The exhibition's intention is to relay a message of goodwill and encourage further exploration while raising awareness and funding for Astronomers without Borders, the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, and the SETI Institute. WeTransfer is providing $10,000 grants to each institution to initiate public donations, and the project will be commemorated in a $15 limited edition zine with 100% of generated revenues going to the non-profits above.

Far out.

Here are the contents of A Message From Earth:

Preface: A comic of illustrations by Sophy Hollington telling the story and brief history of the original Golden Record.

1. Greetings: Wanda Díaz Merced, a blind astronomer who uses sonification to study interstellar events, presents a study of stars as heard on earth - with a selection of images curated by NASA's Rebecca Roth.

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Voyagers: David Pescovitz, Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad nominated for Grammy award

Boing Boing editor and founding partner David Pescovitz, with colleagues Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, was nominated this week to receive a Grammy Award. It's for their work on reissuing the legendary Golden Record that accompanied the Voyager probe into space, which turned into one of 2016's blockbuster Kickstarter campaigns and can now be ordered directly from Ozma records.

They're competing in the Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package category, against Tim Breen, Tom Hingston and other art directors.

What's on the Golden Record? 120 images, a "sound poem" of Earth, greetings in many languages, and a heavenly playlist:

1. Greeting from Kurt Waldheim, Secretary-General of the United Nations

2. Greetings in 55 Languages

3. United Nations Greetings/Whale Songs

4. The Sounds of Earth

5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047: I. Allegro (Johann Sebastian Bach) - Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter

6. Ketawang: Puspåwårnå (Kinds of Flowers) - Pura Paku Alaman Palace Orchestra/K.R.T. Wasitodipuro

7. Cengunmé - Mahi musicians of Benin

8. Alima Song - Mbuti of the Ituri Rainforest

9. Barnumbirr (Morning Star) and Moikoi Song - Tom Djawa, Mudpo, and Waliparu

10. El Cascabel (Lorenzo Barcelata) - Antonio Maciel and Los Aguilillas with Mariachi México de Pepe Villa/Rafael Carrión

11. Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry

12. Mariuamangɨ - Pranis Pandang and Kumbui of the Nyaura Clan

13. Sokaku-Reibo (Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest) - Goro Yamaguchi

14. Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: III. Gavotte en Rondeau (Johann Sebastian Bach) - Arthur Grumiaux

15.

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Voyager Golden Record celebration at Cornell University this week

On Thursday (10/19) and Friday (10/20) this week, Cornell University will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Voyager Golden Record, the gold phonograph records launched into space in 1977 as a message to extraterrestrials. (I co-produced the first vinyl release of the Golden Record with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad.) All events are free and the public is invited. I hope you can join us! From Cornell University:

“40 Years of Cosmic Discovery: Celebrating the Voyager Missions and Humanity’s Message to Space” begins with a panel at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 in Bailey Hall, introduced by Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff, and featuring people who worked on the mission:

Ann Druyan, Emmy- and Peabody-award winning writer/producer/director and creative director of NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Message; Frank Drake, chairman emeritus, SETI Institute and creator of the Drake Equation; Steve Squyres, Cornell’s James A. Weeks Professor and principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission; Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor of astronomy and director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute; and Jonathan Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science.

One of the handful of Golden Record covers that remain on Earth will be featured in a special exhibit at Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, courtesy of Ann Druyan – it has never before been on public display. The multi-media exhibit will include images and sounds from the Golden Record, as well as the original book by Isaac Newton that was photographed for the Golden Record and a first-edition, signed copy of Carl Sagan’s “Murmurs of Earth.”

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The Voyager Golden Record on "All Things Considered"

NPR's All Things Considered aired a wonderful piece about the Voyager Golden Record's first-ever vinyl release that I co-produced with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad. Listen to Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi's report here:

Last week, (the original Voyager Golden Record's producer Timothy) Ferris got his box set in the mail. He says that his friend, the late Carl Sagan, would be delighted by what they made.

"I think this record exceeds Carl's — not only his expectations, but probably his highest hopes for a release of the Voyager record," Ferris says. "I'm glad these folks were finally able to make it happen."

Pescovitz says he's just glad to have returned the Golden Record to the world that created it.

At a moment of political division and media oversaturation, Pescovitz and Daly say they hope that their Golden Record can offer a chance for people to slow down for a moment; to gather around the turntable and bask in the crackly sounds of what Sagan called the "pale blue dot" that we call home.

"As much as it was a gift from humanity to the cosmos, it was really a gift to humanity as well," Pescovitz says. "It's a reminder of what we can accomplish when we're at our best."

"The Voyager Golden Record Finally Finds An Earthly Audience" (NPR)

The Voyager Golden Record is now available for pre-order on vinyl or CD from Ozma Records. Read the rest

Pasadena 9/28: Voyager Golden Record panel with Ann Druyan, Reggie Watts, Lynda Obst, Ed Stone, and David Pescovitz

I'm honored to be included on a free panel discussion next Thursday, 9/28, at Caltech about the cultural influence of the Voyager Golden Record, the enchanting phonograph record launched into space on the twin Voyager spacecraft 40 years ago. (I co-produced the first vinyl release of the Golden Record with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad.) I'm incredibly excited to share the stage with the following inspiring individuals:

• Ann Druyan: Creative director of the Voyager interstellar message; writer, producer, and director of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

• Reggie Watts: Vocal artist, musician, comedian, and technologist

• Lynda Obst: Bestselling author, producer of Interstellar, Contact, Sleepless in Seattle, and many other films

• Ed Stone: Voyager project scientist; David Morrisroe Professor of Physics, and Vice Provost for Special Projects, Caltech

KCRW radio's music director, Jason Bentley, will moderate the discussion. Doors are 6:45pm and while it's free, reservations are required. Contact the Caltech Ticket Office by calling (626) 395-4652 to grab tickets. More details here. I hope to see you there!

Special thanks to Dan Goods of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for organizing this event!

The Voyager Golden Record is now available as a vinyl box set and CD/book package from Ozma Records.

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NASA released these free Voyager 40th anniversary posters

"In celebration of Voyagers' Interstellar voyage, we've added these Posters and Infographics for you to download, print, and share." Read the rest

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

Voyager's Golden Record still plays on

Boing Boing editor and partner David Pescovitz has an op-ed up at CNN about the Voyager probe's golden record. Even in the cold and distant darkness of space, this exemplar of human culture plays on.

It's a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth's greatest music from myriad peoples and eras, from Bach and Blind Willie Johnson to Benin percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Natural sounds — birds, a train, a baby's cry, a kiss — are collaged into a lovely audio poem called "Sounds of Earth." There are spoken greetings in dozens of human languages— and one whale language — and more than 100 images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are. A diagram on the aluminum cover of the record explains how to play it and where it came from.

As an objet d'art and design, the Voyager Record represents deep insights about communication, context, and the power of media. In the realm of science, it raises fundamental questions about our place in the universe.

Pesco helped Kickstart a re-issue of the disc; you can still get in line and pre-order one here. Read the rest

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