Messages from the Pale Blue Dot: One Earth Message is working to keep the legacy alive
Click on the image to hear Carl Sagan
Planetariums around the globe can help Jon Lomberg spread the excitement
Reprinted from Planetarian, Vol. 45, No. 4, March 2016
Planetariums across the globe have an awe-some chance to take part in a “new message in a bottle” being proposed for the New Horizons extended mission. The craft, after its successful and exciting flyby of Pluto in July 2015, is now heading through the Kuiper Belt and eventually leave the solar system.
It will be the fifth craft to leave the gravitational attraction of the sun; two Pioneer crafts and two Voyagers also have made this trek.
The difference? The four earlier spacecraft bore with them physical “messages” from Earth; plaques for the Pioneers and golden records for the Voyagers. The messages were Carl Sagan’s passion for sharing scientific knowledge made tangible and open for the entire world to take part.
Now Jon Lomberg, longtime artistic colleague and illustrator for Sagan and a member of the team behind the Voyager Gold Record, is working to secure a digital message to be uploaded to New Horizons so that the legacy of messages to the cosmos continues.
The project is called One Earth Message; Lomberg is the project director and has gathered an international advisory board to help carry it out.
The message will be from all people. It represents our hope for the future, that we will go on and that our memories will go on. It also is an affirmation that, although we have no data to support it, we are not alone in the universe; we’re saying, al la Horton Hears a Who, that “we are here, we are here, we are here.” (Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss, tells the story of an elephant who finds a tiny world on a speck of dust.)
“The Voyager record turned out be a much more popular and profound activity than we expected,” Lomberg said. This tremendous interest showed to Lomberg and others that an “awfully high percentage of people are interest in space.”
To put something on a message on a spacecraft, “a message for extraterrestrials, that’s exciting,” he said. The message actually was for two audiences: for us, the people of Earth, and for an extraterrestrial that we’ll never know about.
“Sagan pointed out that the message (on the Voyager record) was not from NASA or the US, but from all of us. Global participation is important. Small countries with no space program” will have a voice in space, Lomberg said.
There are several hooks from which planetarians can hang the One Earth Message. The first is generational. “The record was in 1977; it’s time for something else to in-spire the rising generation,” Lomberg noted.
Another significant difference is “everybody can be involved; everyone will have a say in what we can send.” This active participation opens up the process; “it gets people thinking about what’s important to say about Earth.”
How can planetariums take part?
Planetarium programs, perhaps connected to already-scheduled Pluto shows, can spread the word and show people how they can participate. “Wide participation—outreach is the key to that. We envision workshops and activities for students, like how to take pictures to share.”
Another possibility would connect schools from different countries. One class could write a message and send to another group for review, and vice versa.
Participation is as easy as connecting to the One Earth Message website at oneearthmessage.org or by emailing Lomberg directly firstname.lastname@example.org.
Planetarians, for example, can help their audiences realize the time scale of the messages that Earth has sent into our galactic neighborhood.
The record aboard the Voyagers will last for billions of years, for example. “With digital, we have no idea how long it will last. One hundred thousand years? With different technology, maybe a million years?” Lomberg said.
A video made for the initial fundraising effort can be see at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dOiFJ-5QbA.
“A new video could be based on this, remixing that to include images from the actual Pluto encounter, and produced expressly for dome presentation,” Lomberg suggested. “Perhaps production of that could be one of the roles planetarians can play?”
There’s enough time to do it right
There is plenty of time for the project to gather data for the Earth Message before any uploading can take place. It will not be trans-mitted until all the mission science is complete.
Although a Kuiper Belt Object (2014 MU69) has been selected as New Horizon’s next target, NASA is still reviewing the expected mission extension. One aspect of the extension is troubling: the proposal will not include EPO (education and public outreach, a typical inclusion in most NASA funding).
Despite this, Lomberg said that “NASA is currently reviewing the project with great interest.” New Horizons Principle Investigator is supportive of the One Earth project, and also is a member of the One Earth advisory board.
“We will be in touch with (New Horizons) for 50 years or more. The original participants will have kids and grandkids by then, and will still be connected.”
People who are interested in taking part, especially those who would like to be a local representative in their country, are encouraged to contact the One Earth project.
“The message should be made by people who want to make it,” Lomberg noted.
Already on the advisory board are several names familiar to IPS: Kaoru Kimura, affiliate representative for the Japan Planetarium Association; Ian McLennan, representative for the Canadian Association of Science Centres; and Derrick Pitts, director of the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
Also on the board: Paul Curnow, lecturer at the Adelaide Planetarium and a council member of the Astronomical Society of South Australia.
You can learn more at www.jonlomberg.com and oneearthmessage.org.