Monday, June 22, 2009

Pioneer 10 and 11's Map to Earth

In the early 1970s NASA sent out Pioneer 10 and 11 to explore the outer solar system and eventually leave for deeper space. What makes the Pioneers rare amongst space probes is it has a somewhat detailed map on how to find its creators in case any alien species find the probes.

Besides the top right corner, which deals with chemistry and gives measurement units, the plaque either deals with finding Earth or identifying the creators. The nude couple obviously are meant to show what humans look like while the geometric shapes behind them represent the Pioneer satellites and is meant to give scale so aliens know how big humans are.

The star burst on the left compares the solar system's location to that of fourteen pulsars. Pulsars are collapsed stars that give off radiation at steady intervals. The signal given off is so strong and uniform that some scientists thought they were "alien lighthouses" when pulsars were first discovered. Any spacefaring species should know about pulsars and use the map to find our solar system.

The last map on the bottom shows the solar system plus Pluto minus all the plutoids. An arrow indicates that the Pioneers came from the third planet from the Sun.

The Pioneers are long gone yet still far away from the next star. Estimates for the probes to reach their targets are about four million years. They have not been heard from since 2003 and 1995, respectfully. In the meantime they will be flying through space carrying maps offering an open invitation to travel to its home.

1 comment:

Roger Hart said...

I hate to admit it, but I remember that "map" from when Pioneer was launched. Thanks for making me feel so old! :)

I've always found it strange that the man in the image has his hand up; I suppose waving hello? But why would we assume any alien life would interpret that as a friendly gesture? For all we know that could be an intergallactic sign of war.

This "map" is interesting not only for its purpose, but for what it says about the mapmaker.