General, Research, Technology

Space probes "Voyagers" are a danger to humanity?

Forty years ago, humanity sent into spacetwo maps of the location of the Earth. Copies of these maps were mounted on the skin of two identical Voyagers space probes, launched in the late 70s. Now they are the most remote artificial space objects from us. One of the probes has already entered interstellar space, the other had to linger a bit inside the solar system, so he is still catching up with his twin brother.

If these probes ever get interceptedintelligent extraterrestrial civilization and the information on the plates located on their casing, will be decrypted, it will not only tell when this spacecraft left its home, but also show the way to our small water world.

“We needed to send something along with"Voyagers." Something that could tell you where they came from and how long this trip was, ”my father, Frank Drake, who designed the map, told me.

Nadia Drake, the daughter of the famous astrophysicist, shared with National Geographic how the map was created and what response it received then and now.

This is not at all the map on which we allused to navigate. Here, instead of the usual north, south, west, east, and such banal landmarks in the form of a "third planet from the Sun," pulsars are used as markers. Fourteen, to be exact. In fact, pulsars are rapidly rotating corpses of collapsing stars. Pulsars have existed for millions of years, and each of them has its own unique code - pulsation, or flicker, if you like, based on which you can calculate the location of an object in their environment.

“When Drake created a card of pulsars, and Karl Saganand the rest of the team prepared the famous gold records that were later installed on Voyagers, they all didn’t really argue about the pros and cons of dealing with extraterrestrial intelligence, ”said Katherine Denning, an anthropologist at York University who studies the ethical side of sending messages to probable extraterrestrial civilizations.

"However, now among scientists and other prominent people, debates are beginning to glow over whether we have acted wisely and whether it would be better for us to just continue to listen to the cosmos, and not to strive to be heard."

Star Map Creation

Drake's Created Space Landmarkswere placed on gold plates. Each of them contains different sounds of our planet. However, unlike the latter, the map itself was created much earlier, in 1971.

Then my father and Karl Sagan were developingthe message that was supposed to be placed on the Pioneer-10 and Pioneer-11 spacecraft, which were supposed to leave the solar system after being brought to Jupiter. One of the components that he and Sagan wanted to include in the message was a map that indicated the location of the Earth immediately in spatial and temporal coordinates. The question arose before scientists: how to develop a map that extraterrestrial civilizations can understand?

Earth time calculus here would bemeaningless, because it is based on the peculiarities of the rotation of our planet around the Sun. The same difficulty arose with the spatial coordinate system. Nobody will find you in space if you use directions like “up”, “down”, “east” or “west”. Even the stars themselves change over time the astronomical time scale. An explanation in the form of a “second star on the right, and then right up to the morning” would clearly not help those who might discover our probes after a billion years. Until the message reaches the addressee, for example, the same Betelgeuse star, which can act as a coordinate point, will cease to exist.

Pulsar magic

So for my father, the decision was obvious -pulsars. Discovered in 1967 by astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, these superdense dead stars are excellent beacons in both spatial and temporal coordinate systems. They have a very long life cycle, which can last from tens of millions and possibly up to several billion years. Moreover, each pulsar is unique. All of them rotate incredibly quickly and create pulses of electromagnetic radiation, which makes their behavior similar to the behavior of a lighthouse. By calculating the delay between these pulses, astronomers can calculate their speed of rotation to an incredibly accurate level.

Over time, the speed of the pulsars slows down, inin some cases, only in billions of a second per year. By comparing the pulse rotation speed at the current moment with the speed indicated in the detected map, intelligent life will be able to figure out how much time could elapse from the moment this map was created.

“Pulsars are like magic. Nothing else in the sky can help to calculate the necessary indicators so accurately, ”says Drake.

"Each of them has its own unique frequency of pulsation, so anyone can determine it, including those intelligent creatures that can be very far from us."

Drake suggested that if these creatures couldto find out what pulsars are, they will definitely know where these dead stars are in the galaxy. Using the resulting map, they could trace the path of motion of the probes, which would ultimately lead them to the Sun. After just three minutes of discussion, Sagan and Drake shook hands. The decision was taken.

Drake drew a map with 14 pulsars. The original version of the card, created in pencil, is located somewhere in one of the boxes at home. The length of the lines connecting each pulsar to the central object, the Sun, reflects how far they are from our star. In addition to these markers, he also wrote in binary code, reducing to 12 characters the rotation speed of each of these pulsars, so any curious aliens will immediately be able to understand which pulsars my father chose as beacons. A successful decryption of the map to some extent will tell the address of the location of the Sun and the approximate time when the spacecraft was launched. Today, these data are causing serious concern among some scientists.

Dangerous lighthouse?

When was the first Voyager launched (whichthe fact is Voyager 2, - approx. Ed.), scientists had no idea whether other planets exist outside the solar system, not to mention whether another life could exist somewhere else.

However, thanks to missions such as Kepler, wewe know that planets are a fairly common occurrence for our galaxy, and a reasonable percentage of these worlds can be the same as our Earth. Such a revelation created a great desire to send directional radio messages in the direction of promising stellar systems.

Amid this discovery, controversy has also arisen onthe topic of whether it is reasonable to declare its existence is unknown to anyone. Some believe that this venture is crazy and dangerous, given how little we know about what may be hidden “on the other side”. Others advise listening more to the stars, rather than trying to talk to them. But for the “Voyagers” everything is already a foregone conclusion - they are there, they are flying, they are carrying a map of our house. And if someone is there, then this someone can definitely find them.

“At that time, all the people with whom I had to communicate were much more optimistic and thought that if the aliens exist, then most likely they are friendly,” says Drake.

"It never occurred to anyone, not even for a second, that what we are doing can be very dangerous."

So what is the likelihood that the cards aboard the Voyagers will reach the shores of extraterrestrial civilizations?

“Very small,” says Drake.

“These things move at a speed of about 10kilometers per second. At this speed, the devices will reach the nearest star in only half a million years, another half million years will be spent on reaching another star. And of course, they are not aimed towards any particular star. They just fly where they fly. "

If extraterrestrial civilizations will havepowerful radars, then they are likely to be able to detect the "Voyagers" from afar. But that is still very unlikely, Drake says. In other words, images, sounds and maps of the planet Earth can eternally and imperceptibly swim through space.

The truth is that humanity throughoutfor almost a century passively announces its existence through radar installations, radio and TV broadcasts. And with the development of the private space industry, this message flow will most likely only increase, and who knows which stars these messages can reach.

According to Denning, we all have to consider all the pros and cons before declaring our existence.

“In the end, we all live on this planet,” the scientist says.