If you built a spacecraft that might be intercepted somewhere . . . out there, what cultural artifacts would you include with it?
The late Carl Sagan headed an effort to include audio recordings of greetings in a multitude of languages, as well as all sorts of imagery, onboard the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. The data were encoded on a gold "record," along with a stylus and visual instructions on how to decode them.
For a short time, a wonderful book and dual-CD set were available in bookstores with all of the imagery, music, and spoken language. I find it fascinating; the first picture is a circle, since it's easy for the (uh) aliens to calibrate their decoders to it. They are taught the symbols of our arithmetic, as well as indications of what a "meter" and a "second" are. From there, they are taught about our biochemistry - DNA - the periodic table, solar system, where babies come from, what our occupations look like, what animals look like, etc. (The scientists used a funny typeface that put weird serifs on the lowercase "h," presumably in case the decoding was noisy.)
It's it neat that this single slide contains enough information to let someone (something?) decode the notation of our basic math? It's like all of second and third grade compressed into one image.
It's still protected by copyright, but you can hear and see samples of it on JPL's website.
- Introduction to the Golden Record.
- Multiple language recordings. Greetings from Earth in 55 languages, such as Korean, Burmese, Japanese, and Marathi. The out-of-print CD also has greetings from whales.
- The globe's representative music. If your library has it, you can hear (and read about the academic struggle of choosing) representitive music of our planet. The songs are listed here - Javanese gamelan, Bach, Chuck Berry... (no, BB, no Aphex Twin).
- The whole earth, in a few pictures. The illustrations I mentioned that are supposed to paint as complete a picture of our arithmetic, chemistry, biology, and scope of daily lives are sampled here.