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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval 282

Lucas123 writes "The problem: What do you leave behind that billions of years from now, and without context, would give aliens an some kind of accurate depiction of mankind. The answer: A gold-plated silicon disc with just 100 photos. That's the idea behind The Last Pictures project, which is scheduled to blast off in the next few months from Kazakhstan and orbit the earth for 5 billion years. The photos, etched into the silicon using a bitmap format, were chosen over a five-year process that involved interviews with artists, philosophers, and MIT scientists, who included biologists, physicists, and astronomers. To each, was posed a single question: What photos would you choose to send into outer space? The answer became an eclectic mix of images from pre-historic cave paintings to a photo of a group of people taken by a predator drone."
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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval

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  • by Razgorov Prikazka ( 1699498 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:04AM (#41546299)
    That way they will be tricked into thinking that we look just like them and hopefully they wont be as hostile as some movies predict.
    Anyway, I for one, welcome our new gold prospecting overlords!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    In a few hundred years, some teenager who's nicked his Dad's space car will go and steal it.

    • by feedayeen ( 1322473 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:19AM (#41546363)

      It'll be gone long before then. If you figure that it only costs a few tens of millions for a private individual to launch a satellite, returning requires more fuel and heat shielding, but that's not too much more. Considering that artifacts only increase in value, the cost of "recovery" only decreases, the only thing that can happen to save it from some billionaire with questionable ethics is if there's so much junk up there that nobody even cares it exists.

    • yeah if you want to leave a message
      the gold plate the moon,
      not some tiny disc that'g going to get lost

  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:07AM (#41546311) Journal

    "Sir! We have a lot of pictures!"

    "Leave them alone, Lieutenant. We don't have the copyright license to copy them, because the owners are long dead."

    "But Sir!"

    "I SAID, leave them alone! Haven't you heard of biogenic-nuclear copyright licenses? Without the antidote we'd all die."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:10AM (#41546741)

      the only way to see the pictures is if you buy the book. thanks world for not being so cool as during and after the space race.

    • by alexgieg ( 948359 ) <> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @01:15PM (#41550891) Homepage

      "Leave them alone, Lieutenant. We don't have the copyright license to copy them, because the owners are long dead."

      You made me remember the plot of a short story I read, I think, in an old Asimov SF magazine. Aliens come here in the stone age, become quite amazed at cave painting, a completely novel art form for them, but cannot make copies and must delete the recordings because their ethical system requires them to pay for cultural goods with some other cultural good of theirs at the same technological level, but all they have is more advanced than stone age tech, so no exchange, and no cave paintings for them. One of them however has a nice idea: giving humanity bows and arrows. The other aliens are doubtful, arguing that's quite a technological leap for humanity, which might not be ready to deal with such weapons. The other guy prevails though, with an argument akin to: "Hey, they're almost there anyway, and those paintings are soooo nice. After all, it's just bow and arrows. What could possibly go wrong?" And so they depart, with their properly purchased photos and a new art form, and in exchange we get a new, efficient and very lethal new means of war.

  • 4 Chan (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:10AM (#41546321)

    We should just send up pictures from 4 chan.

    Then the universe will leave us alone.

  • Voyager discs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:23AM (#41546381) Homepage

    I prefer the Voyager discs. They provide a more positive look on mankind. These photos look more like a guilt trip.

    • by adolf ( 21054 )

      Linky link [].

    • Re:Voyager discs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Comrade Ogilvy ( 1719488 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @01:44PM (#41551209)

      In particular, the pictures show very, very little about who this mysterious species that created the disk happens to be. I like the cave paintings, but who cares what a glacier looks like? Or a tornado? Or big waves? Or the inside of a mine/tunnel? How about showing a boat where you can actually see the people? Any space-faring race that finds Earth will have trillions of photographs of interesting geology in their libraries.

      Voyager was a sincere attempt to be testimony on the human species. This is just a testimony on the grandiose artistic pretensions of one specific human.

  • by Scarletdown ( 886459 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:31AM (#41546413) Journal

    Designed to last for 5 billion years? Won't it and the Earth be one with the sun in about 3 or 4 billion?

    Anyway, I think we should baffle the aliens with a bit of bullshit and have a set of pictures that are screenshots of the Death Star destroying Alderaan. Hilarity ensues when word gets out about this and aliens from all over the galaxy scramble to tear up our long dead world in search of any useful information about this tech that allowed the great and ancient civilization that thrived here to build a space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet.

    • Oh yeah, we also need the obligatory Goatse picture as well.

    • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

      I was wondering that too. A couple of searches though seems to indicate that the Sun will not start to enter the Red Giant phase for another 5 billion years.

      However, after only another billion years the oceans should boil off due to the extra solar output. I sincerely doubt a gold disk is going to survive in orbit long enough to be destroyed by the beginnings of the Red Giant phase.

    • Seems to me it'd be pulverized by a meteor long before that anyhow...
    • RE: the deathstar joke,

      Totally gave me a flashback to Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen. The ultra-advanced race of aliens have no concept of deception or even untruth, so they believed the Galaxy Quest show (read Star Trek) was filmed-as-it-happened documentary, and used it to develop their ship. Heh. I can't believe a species as or more intelligent than us could ever survive without a concept of deception....

      And if life is common in the galaxy or universe, life advanced enough to do convenient interstellar t

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        " I can't believe a species as or more intelligent than us could ever survive without a concept of deception...." Probably because it would be beneficial to the individual to be able to positively manipulate others, creating deception, which would give an evolutionary advantage over others, meaning those creatures that can understand deception would have a better chance to preocreate.
    • Designed to last for 5 billion years? Won't it and the Earth be one with the sun in about 3 or 4 billion?

      It is called quality. You overshoot the design estimations so that when unforeseen things happen, your thingy is still useful. Not much of it about nowadays unfortunately.

  • by Empiric ( 675968 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#41546415)
    My first question on this concept would be, "Why would the hypothetical aliens expect to find a message from us to them in orbit, and look there amongst all the other orbital junk?"

    Seems that the most natural thing to expect would be that one should look for informative objects where the culture lived, for which, off the top of my head, "encasement of pictures in a huge block of plexiglass, on Earth" seems more likely to actually be discovered. This seems akin to a historical human culture saying, "We want to make sure that future people know about us and what our ways were, so let's walk 500 miles away from where we live and all our buildings are, and put some paintings up in the mountains."
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      I rather think that plate tectonics and vulcanism would put paid to any monument left on Earth for up to a couple of billion years. The moon or one of the other balls of rock might be a better option from a geological perspective, but would still be vulnerable to a suitably large meteor strike in the vicinity. A small object like a satellite floating around in space is probably going to have the best chance of survival, but the flipside is that it simply isn't very likely to be found unless it can be disc
    • What if alien life in 5 billion years has evolved to look nothing like it is today? They could be bags, of mostly energy, with no real bodies.

      "Zodon, please place the Solid Gold Aliens Top 100 Hits CD in the player, so we can decode it."

      "I can't, Korgos, we are bags of mostly energy, with no real bodies, and we have no hands."

      We should have included a fart app on the CD. That one really never seems to get old.

      And then the aliens could really understand our intelligence level.

    • by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Put it on the moon, buried in Tycho crater with a magnetic bullseye to direct future travellers to it.
    • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
      With a goal of 5b years, even the mountains you painted in would be whittled away be erosion. There is almost nothing you can do on the Earths surface that would last 5b years, if only because it would go back under the crust. Entire continents will be gone in that much time.
  • by sa666u ( 2626427 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#41546419)
    Why do people love stroking their ego so much? Is it so hard to comprehend that in terms of the universe our lives are completely meaningless?
    • Actually, it is more for when the astronauts time warp into the future and discover humans are subservient to apes. It will be proof it should be the other way around and help the humans reclaim their status and we won't need to watch old actors yell those damn dirty apes again..

    • by Nukedoom ( 1776114 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:27AM (#41546587)

      Whaaaa? Why do you say that? We are the Universe--we're the conscious part, a beautiful self-aware organism. We didn't create ourselves, but we are the product of a vastly complex series of interactions taking place over the course of billions of years.

      We're as about as meaningful as anything the Universe has brought into existence, if not more.

      • But the utility of that contraption kicks in only after we are no more, so your argument will no longer be valid.

        So I agree with the GP. Also, I find depressing that some people are counting on the extinction of mankind, and are more worried about the time after that and some hipotetical aliens (who may not even exist or come close to Sun, let alone find a piece of debris around a dead planet).

        In essence, this gets to be both a silly and depressing idea. Great boooh.

        • When you are dead does it matter that you have known?

          No, but it matters while we are still alive. That's the essence of everything we can think of.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
          I think the whole point is if our time truly is meaningless, then this action doesn't hurt. We have nothing to lose, which means there is only potential to gain.
      • by sa666u ( 2626427 )

        We're as about as meaningful as anything the Universe has brought into existence...

        Exactly my point. If the planet dies tomorrow in a fiery explosion, the Universe will not be a bit different. Noone will notice and noone will care. I think that sending a plaque with (pathetic and preachy) pictures in orbit is arrogant and self centered. I don't even want to raise the question about space junk and how would "aliens" differentiate between debris and inspirational plaques.

        • It doesn't strike me as particularly effective either--more symbolic than anything else. I can appreciate the gesture, though. And isn't that what this largely is? Part of the idea is that hopefully, somewhere out there is life. This is sort of a way to reach out to them. It's very human to me--reaching out towards the unknown, hoping for someone to be there.

          I'd like to think there are two ways to think about life--either everything's futile or some things are meaningful. I don't think there's a decisive wa

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ( 886486 )

      Your life may be meaningless, mine is not. That aside, while our lives may be meaningless in this scale, it doesn't mean that we are meaningless. Every part is equally a part of the universe.

    • by Fr33z0r ( 621949 )
      In terms of the universe, yep, we're pretty meaningless. In terms of other species, we're anything but.

      Look at all the cool stuff we learned from different human cultures on this planet alone. Then think about how excited we get about the prospect of just finding simple bacteria on another planet. There's no way an alien species sufficiently advanced to be exploring our solar system would find a record of our history and think "meh, just humans, nothing worth seeing here"

      There's a healthy middle groun
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:37AM (#41546437) Homepage

    It's "more space junk." If there was this lone object in orbit? Okay maybe. But we're talking about our planet with lots of stuff up there now. LOTS of stuff. And then meteor showers and crap?

    And even if somehow this one trinket found its way into the hands/claws/tentacles of a being from space, are they supposed to be convinced of something? I mean really. Oh look, among all this stuff, there are creatures out there... sending some kind of message... I will go visit them!

    "Mixed message" is the best we've got? And for fuck's sake... we've got actual people in orbit... people to talk to.

  • Why a disc? (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by ccguy ( 1116865 )
    Maybe they could have just put printed pictures, well protected. Why use a disc they won't know how the fuck use, so they are pissed at us before even meeting?
    At the very least put an Ikea-like manual (no text, just pictures, where things just "click") with it.
    • Maybe they could have just put printed pictures, well protected.

      I don't expect people to read the articles - this is Slashdot, after all - but you could have at least read the summary.

  • We can do a better job. How about something like the probe from the ST:TNG episode "The Inner Light." The only problem would be what tune/melody/song would the person engaged with probe learn how to play? We could auction it off the rights or hold some sort of Global Idol song contest, but we would probably end up with some piece of pop dribble or some old, boring classical piece. []
  • by Maxmin ( 921568 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:40AM (#41546453)

    Without the context of human perception and aesthetics, many of these images may appear as random noise to an alien species!

    Abstract artistic expression works for some of us, but might not be communicating directly enough to clearly convey ideas, concepts, facts, history, even human being's notions of beauty, the latter of which clearly was the curator's primary objective.

    I'm not knocking the images themselves. But without the context of human eyes, human life and experience... these will have little or no meaning to anyone who has never lived earth.

    • by hairyfish ( 1653411 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:08AM (#41546941)

      I'm not knocking the images themselves. But without the context of human eyes, human life and experience... these will have little or no meaning to anyone who has never lived earth.

      Well I have lived on the earth, my whole life in fact, and even I struggled to figure what half these photos were about. Silly blurry arty black and white shit may work in the cool end of town, but when you're attempting to communicate with foreigners, you need to keep it as simple as possible.

      • I also am dubious about the particular choice of pictures. But it would be stupid to do anything other than monochrome. RGB colour only works because of the biology of the human eye, that has receptors for these 3 particular wavelengths of light. Similarly CMYK and every other colour system depends on how human sight works.

        Of course we can make no guarantees that the aliens would have something that that we can recognise as sight. Although for a race to make it to earth, some way of making sense of a scene

  • Though we probably f'd our future descendants with all the EM we have been spraying out into the ether, either unintentional leakage or purposeful broadcasts, any hard-copy information should give misleading information about our home system, so that no being would be able to find the coordinates of Earth Of course we would also have to do something to alter the trajectory of any craft we send out, so it couldn't merely be tracked backwards. We don't want any aliens coming 1000 years from now demanding we
  • Why does this even get any press at all. It is just plain stupid.

  • by Maow ( 620678 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:18AM (#41546555) Journal

    I quickly browsed the images and had a couple thoughts.

    1) Why didn't they etch images unencoded? Simply make micro images in high detail (ala microfiche) so they don't have to be decoded?

    2) I really didn't think the choice of photos was representative of life on earth. No cityscapes, no human faces close up, no animals / pets (inter-species friendship for example), no image of something technological such as a state of the art mobile phone / laptop. No images of agriculture or even a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

    Hell, I could barely tell what some images were supposed to be (well, number 1 took a couple seconds - I thought it was a crystalline structure, number two I haven't figured out yet).

    I did like earth from space, but how about an image of Armstrong / Aldrin on the moon? A passenger jet taking off showing outside & in?

    So many choices, so poorly selected IMHO.

    • no animals / pets (inter-species friendship for example)

      What is that you want, the alien version of goatse?

      Anyway, more seriously, the Armstrong / Aldrin photo in the moon is a good idea, but the "state of the art technology" will become obsolete and meaningless to ourselves in perhaps half a generation, that is a bad example.

      • by Maow ( 620678 )

        no animals / pets (inter-species friendship for example)

        Anyway, more seriously, the Armstrong / Aldrin photo in the moon is a good idea, but the "state of the art technology" will become obsolete and meaningless to ourselves in perhaps half a generation, that is a bad example.

        It's true that the technology would be obsolete rather quickly, but in the billion-year time frame under consideration, it would give an idea of how we interact with our (non-satellite consumer) tech. i.e. a human face gazing at a smart phone with a map displayed, or a video call...

        A human interacting with a laptop showing the screen (data consumption & manipulation) & human face again...

        I still think it would be worthwhile.

        Once we have space elevator(s), we can "upload" more current images of ou

    • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:26AM (#41546769) Homepage

      1) Why didn't they etch images unencoded? Simply make micro images in high detail (ala microfiche) so they don't have to be decoded?

      Isn't that exactly what they've done? A lot of people seem to have missed this. They're etched on the blue centre of the disc.

      • by Maow ( 620678 )

        1) Why didn't they etch images unencoded? Simply make micro images in high detail (ala microfiche) so they don't have to be decoded?

        Isn't that exactly what they've done? A lot of people seem to have missed this. They're etched on the blue centre of the disc.

        Now that you mention it, yes, it looks like they have. Although the disk appears cut away.

        Harrumph - like I said, it would be a good idea...

        *looks away, pretends to be busy*

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:21AM (#41546569) Homepage Journal

    Here's what I dislike about the pictures that I've seen on the project website:

    Most of them would make bugger all sense to an alien species. Heck, some of them are hard to make sense of if you are a human.

    I, too, think the Voyager pictures were a better selection. They provide information about scale and location, something that these pictures don't. Many of them require you to have an understanding of humans and/or human culture to make sense. For example, the indoor pictures have no objective indicators of scale. There is absolutely no hint to tell future alien watchers if these are images of something microscopic, macroscopic, inbetween? Whatever this picture [] is showing, for example, does not even tell the alien if the area shown in the image is 5 mm, 5 cm, 5m, 50m or whatever across. The skeleton in the top-right corner is largely hidden, it only makes sense as a scale measure if you are a human and your brain is trained on filling in the blanks of other humanoid shapes.

    Also, I agree that at least from the selection they show on their webpage, way too many of them show natural catastrophies and doom and gloom.

    I miss images that would make alien visitors in the not-5-billion-years distant future help make sense of the ruins of our civilization. If you include pictures of cave paintings, why not a city or two? A million years from now, there won't be anything of either left, but a few thousand years from now, ruins of our cities will still be there even if we go away tomorrow.

    And why the focus on humans? What about the other 99% of biomass on the planet?

    For a project this expensive, it looks way too much like a high school project to me. Amateurish.

  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:25AM (#41546579)

    Orbits around the Earth are affected by the Moon, that satellite won't just stay there for so long. They would be better off with a Lagrange orbit. Also, if it's only 100 pictures they should've engraved them on the disks rather than using a digital format the aliens have little chance to decrypt.

  • Amongst the hundreds of thousands of orbiting satellites not to mention the garbage floating around the planet how are they supposed to find one little disc? Hell they could make it the size of a shopping mall and they'd still have difficulty locating this. Combined with the fact that I think the future of our planet looks a lot like the few opening scenes from Wall-E I don't have much hope at all for this every being anything than a colossal waste of money.

  • Where's the p0rn? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aNonnyMouseCowered ( 2693969 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:12AM (#41546745)

    Maybe I'm browsing the project site wrong, but all I saw were about a dozen photographs? None show images of naked humans that can at least give a hint of what a human looks without the environmental protection suit. Photos of couples having sex and babies can also explain the nature of human reproduction. We're not androids that just rolled off the some fab lab.

  • Won't last that long (Score:5, Informative)

    by jonfr ( 888673 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:15AM (#41546753) Homepage

    The hops this satellite is going last 5 billion years at the orbit of 30.000 km is just nonsense. The orbit is too low and unstable at best, even if this is geosync orbit. He would have needed a orbit pattern of at least 600.000 km (outside the orbit of the moon) to get this goal. Outside forces are more likely to push the satellite towards Earth in few thousands years. Rather then from it. Orbital debris is also going to be a major problem in the long term.

  • I agree with everyone else about the poor choices of photos that are vaguely artistic rather than actual useful or communicative to a potential alien species, but I also have another issue: 5 billion years?

    My understanding was that most orbits decay eventually. I know this is close to geosync and not like the ISS, but is it really likely such a orbit would remain stable for 5 billion-freaking-years? I mean, even assuming no other outside objects cross paths with this satellite, won't its orbit eventually de

  • []

    Not that I believe in its interest at any rate, but there is a guy that proposed this to UN in 2000, and has been announcing launch dates every two years since then...

    At least he made a living out of it for himself, and seems sincere...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    this is to sell a book. Stop looking for deeper meaning and taking this group literally, discussing details like why there aren't any pictures of humans, or pictures of cell phones or buildings. It's a very, very expensive promotion to sell a coffee table book.

  • . . . let's put some Flash videos up there. At the right we're going, it's still gonna be around in a few billion years.

    As an added bonus: It should act as a warning sign to any visiting aliens - there is no intelligent life here, now move along.
    • . . . let's put some Flash videos up there

      Apparently, Adobe plans to drop support for Alien Flash in 3.5 billion years, so this suggestion won't fly.... the right we're going...

      You're voting for Romney...?


      • by tgeek ( 941867 )
        Yeah, but after the Flash player is gone in a few billion years, should an alien try to telepathically view our Flash videos, his brain(s) will overheat and shutdown.

        P.S. I knew I shouldn't have played hookie on the day they covered "proofreading" in my grade school grammar class . . . but I figured "When am I ever going to use THAT?" (apparently not today)
  • A picture of a flowering tree, with the sky as a background? There's no context - you only know its a tree because you know it's a tree. Grainy picture of predator drone footage? Too blurry to even know what it is... unless you know what it is. This needs to be far more universal, something like the Voyager record. The one decent picture was the one of the moon, although the moon won't be in the same place in 5B years.

    These pictures are from some Freshman Art 101 class, something a kid with an old

  • Include a Donald Duck cartoon - that will fool them

    (Expedition to Earth by Arthur C Clarke)

  • Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval

    Why does Gold Artifact hope for alien retrieval? Is this some new religious meme?

  • What the hell? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:55AM (#41548507)

    From the collection of photos shown on their website it would appear they were selected by an art student with an obnoxiously cynical view of humanity. The hold little meaning beyond this pervasive sense of negativity.

    Let's take stock:
    Before and after photos of melting glaciers
    Grainy photo waves crashing on a pier with a bunch of people watching
    Some random ship in what appears to be the Suez canal
    An approaching dust storm during what I think is the dust bowl
    Barely decipherable cave paintings
    A mine
    Some nonsensical photo of a huge auditorium with 7 tv screens depicting highway interchanges
    A waterspout
    A blurry photo taken by a drone (presumably pre strike)
    Random kids standing in water, most looking away from the camera
    A rather strange looking room that looks like something from colonial times

    I'm a human and I see no rhyme or reason in these photos beyond what I mentioned above. What the hell is an alien intelligence going to make of these? I think this is a neat concept, but that's a rather pathetic selection of photos.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.