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Sending the best humanity has to offer into the blackness

As 2013 draws to a close, there are many lists being made of significant news events that took place this year. Many of those news items are important, but depressing: food safety scandals, international conflict, political in-fighting, the death of revered figures, and so on. It's easy to look back on this year and despair for the state of our civilization.

But one story from 2013 could be seen as hopeful — perhaps the most hopeful of all: it was officially confirmed this year that the Voyager 1 space probe had become the first man-made object to leave our solar system.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 gave us our first close-up look at Jupiter and Saturn, as well as their moons. In the Jovian system, Voyager 1 discovered the first evidence of active volcanoes on another world, on the moon of Io. Later, it relayed back to Earth important information about the atmospheric composition of both Saturn and its moon Titan.

Voyager 1 never encountered another planetary body again. But in 1990, at a distance of 6 billion kilometers, its cameras were turned around to take one last picture — of Earth. All that could be seen of our home from that distance was a tiny speck, illuminated in a beam of light from the Sun. This final picture of Earth was dubbed “The Pale Blue Dot.”

But this isn't about what Voyager 1 did or where it is now, but instead what it carries. Even before its launch, its designers knew it would one day go further than anything we had made before. They realized that it was possible, albeit unlikely, that this craft could encounter intelligent life somewhere out there. And so astronomer Carl Sagan was tasked with putting together a message for the probe to carry, something that would sum us up as a species should someone or something find Voyager 1. Creative director Ann Druyan assisted him in this.

In the end, Voyager 1 carried a gold-plated record containing audio recordings and written messages. The golden record contains greetings in 59 different languages, 115 images, contemporary and popular music from numerous cultures (including “Johnny B. Goode”) and various sounds from Earth, including the sound of a kiss and a mother speaking to her newborn infant for the very first time.

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