27 August 2004

Pioneer 10

All good science nerds know that the Pioneer 10 probe went out with a plaque on the side explaining where it came from, in case aliens should stumble across it. I always figured that archeologists a billion years from now will cite it in arguments over which planet was the human homeworld.

The Defective Yeti, on the other hand fears that no one will be able to understand it if they find it.

the periods of the fourteen pulsars are therefore encoded on the map as binary numbers (which is why the rays emanating from the sun look like this: "--||-|----|-|-|||--" -- that's binary, dude!). The alien need only figure out the binary number and then times it by 1420 MHz (the hyperfine whatever frequency, remember?) to calculate the period of each pulsars. Between the unique fingerprints of the pulsars and their relative distances from us, the critters should be able to triangulate the position of our sun. Could it be any more obvious?

Edward Tufte doesn't think the plaque is so bad, but does suggest one big improvement.

It seems to me, when we send messages to aliens, the least we could do is give the message to some humans first and see if they have any luck figuring it out.


Anonymous said...

Here's a somewhat more scholarly attempt at deciphering the plaque.

Despite the goofy naked humans, Sagan and et al. deserve some props for the plaque, considering that they had just 3 weeks to design it: "A time interval of only 3 weeks existed between the formulation of the idea of including a message on Pioneer 10, achieving NASA concurrence, devising the message, and delivering the draft message for engraving."

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the blatant sexism of the human images on the Pioneer 10 plaque.

The male stands straight, with arm raised in greeting. The female leans towards him passively. To me this suggests that she is his pet.

Why did Sagan et al never consider having both male and female figure greet the viewer?

Anonymous said...

Today I was reading a book on the history of alphabets where I encountered this plaque again - the first thing that came to my mind was exactly the same: sexism on space! Indeed the woman looks like either a pet, or a being of less capacity, or it is universally agreed on that the male gets into communication and the female of this species is passive.
It is impossible to create an image of ourselves that is stripped off of ideology and culture, howeber that's why they should have been careful about it. For instance, men are not short haired and women long haired in nature (we're not like the lions!), but mean in nature have beards, so why send a "shaved" picture? Same with the genitals... When you check wikipedia, under the headline of "criticism" for the "pioneer plaque" you don't see anything about sexism. Is it really possible that no one ever said anything about it at the time?