At the time of writing this we are less than 11 hours from the Pluto Flyby!
I missed out on the first images of the distant solar system. When I was old enough to fully realize my interest in space, we had already flown past of all the planets (all 8). Voyager 2 was the first to visit the outer gas (ice) giants Uranus and Neptune in the mid to late 1980’s. I was too young to appreciate what we had just accomplished. We brought planets into focus we’ve known about for decades and centuries but for the first time with detail, colour, textures, and data. These distant points of light pondered by astronomers for centuries were made very real as they clutched our own technology in their gravity.
While Pluto is no longer classified as a planet, knowing that this famous celestial body is about to be imaged at this distance for the first time has me so stoked. New Horizons has given me the opportunity to go back in time during the days of Voyager 2 to see what I missed and have my mind blown. Not only did Voyager 2 provide us with the clearest images of the most remote planets in our solar system, it reminded us that yes…this is where we are! We are in a system of planets and bodies orbiting this incredible ball of plasma called the Sun flying through space on an existential crisis asking what we’re all about and if there is anybody else out there also asking these questions and launching probes. Furthermore, we can blow everybody’s mind in real-time (ish as it takes about 4 hours for messages to get from Pluto plus lag time in bandwidth and processing) as everything that is transpiring over the next few hours will be online. It’s a good time to be taking photos of planets.
Beyond taking pictures of far out solar system objects, Voyager 2 and the New Horizons probe have something else in common – they are both carrying messages. Or rather, New Horizon will be carrying messages…and you can include one! Voyager 2 was launched with a “Golden Record” that was created in conjunction with a number of astronomers including Carl Sagan and was designed with the assistance of John Lomberg. Lomberg is known for his incredibly accurate depictions of celestial objects through his visual art work. We relied on art such as Lomberg’s for Carl Sagan’s TV series, “Cosmos” before we had images of space from technology like the Hubble Space Telescope. The Golden Record on both Voyager probes contains 116 images ranging from human anatomy to DNA to animal life, a variety of sounds recorded from Earth, musical selections from different cultures, greetings in 55 languages, and messages from President Carter and The UN Secretary General. Lomberg, who served as the design director, created a physical drawing of “vertebrate evolution” on the record’s surface and an anatomically correct male and female. A stellar map was also included which could be used to trace Earth’s location. Essentially the record acted as a message in a bottle; a time capsule which we hurled into the cosmos to perhaps be discovered by an alien civilization.
New Horizons is an upgrade to the Voyager time capsule. Our digital technology now allows us to upload data to New Horizons which will carry messages, as Voyager did, but digitally into the cosmos. As before, Jon Lomberg is involved with the project called “One Earth Message” launched as a crowd sourced fundraiser. Rather than photos and messages chosen by a select few, you can upload your own messages which will be voted for on the website and added to a Golden Record 2.0 as New Horizons, the fastest ship we’ve ever built, races past Pluto and out of the solar system.
Below is the One Earth Message promotional video
Also, keep up to date on the New Horizon’s mission over the next hours before FlyBy here. When those crisp images of Pluto’s surface come into focus, it will break the Internet.
EDIT: Remember! The images from the Flyby won’t be available until later in the afternoon on the 14th. Here is a great summary of what to expect from New Horizons in the hours and days following closest approach at approximately 7:50am EST on July 14th (Today as I post this!) from Discover Magazine
As Carl Sagan said about the first Golden Records “The launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” [src] I’m excited to share in that hope once again with New Horizons.
Also, an early Happy 89th Birthday to my grandfather, Henry. As the person who first introduced me to the stars, it seems fitting your birthday coincides with this epic cosmic meeting of New Horizons and Pluto early tomorrow. Lots of love. I can’t thank you enough for the legacy of the stars you’ve left in my life.