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Voyager 1

Voyager 1

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The Nine Million Names Of God

The Nine Million Names Of God

“The Nine Billion Names of God” is a 1953 science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke.

The Taktshang Monastery,

This short story tells of a Tibetan lamasery whose monks seek to list all of the Names of God, since they believe the Universe was created in order to note all the names of God and once this naming is completed, God will bring the Universe to an end. Three centuries ago, the monks created an alphabet in which they calculated they could encode all the possible names of God, numbering about 9,000,000,000 (“nine billion”) and each having no more than nine characters. Writing the names out by hand, as they had been doing, even after eliminating various nonsense combinations, would take another 15,000 years; the monks wish to use modern technology in order to finish this task more quickly.

Prayer

They rent a computer capable of printing all the possible permutations, and they hire two Westerners to install and program the machine. The computer operators are skeptical but play along. After three months, as the job nears completion, they fear that the monks will blame the computer, and by extension its operators, when nothing happens. The Westerners delay the operation of the computer so that it will complete its final print run just after their scheduled departure. After their successful departure on ponies, they pause on the mountain path on their way back to the airfield, where a plane is waiting to take them back to civilization. Under a clear night sky they estimate that it must be just about the time that the monks are pasting the final printed names into their holy books. Then they notice that “overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.”

Hole in the Sky

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The Voyager 2 spacecraft is a 722-kilogram (1,592 lb) space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and eventually interstellar space. Operating for 34 years, 8 months and 5 days as of today (25 April 2012), the spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.

Part of the Voyager program with its identical sister craft Voyager 1, the spacecraft is currently in extended mission, tasked with locating and studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space. The primary mission ended December 31, 1989 after encountering the Jovian system in 1979, Saturnian system in 1980, Uranian system in 1986, and the Neptunian system in 1989. It was the first probe to provide detailed images of the outer gas giants.

Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that either spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The discs carry photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from the people (e.g. the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States, and the children of the Planet Earth) and a medley, “Sounds of Earth”, that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a variety of music.

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The Voyager spacecraft are not heading towards any particular star, but Voyager 1 will be within 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the Ophiuchus constellation in about 40,000 years.[1]

As the probes are extremely small compared to the vastness of interstellar space, the probability of a space-faring civilization encountering them is very small, especially since the probes will eventually stop emitting any kind of electromagnetic radiation. If they are ever found by an alien species, it will most likely be far in the future as the nearest star on Voyager 1’s trajectory will only be reached in 40,000 years.

Carl Sagan noted that “The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle‘ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”[2] Thus the record is best seen as a time capsule or a symbolic statement rather than a serious attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life.