What’s behind the night sky? Against this dark backdrop there hides millions of luminous stars and galaxies that tells stories of our universe. Stretching our imagination into the edges, the dark night sky is a blank canvas to paint our meanings of existence. There, underneath this infinite and immeasurable heaven, we look up and ponder who we are, which is then responded with a graceful silence from the sky.
In 1977, in the midst of Cold War, the Voyager 1 was sent to the outerskirt of our solar system, while carrying a piece of humanity, The Golden Record. Led by Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan, this gold-plated copper disc recorded 115 images and various sounds, and music from the world; a naked photo of a man and a woman, the sound of a kiss, welcomes from 54 different languages and a humpback whales, music from Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry to Bach’s Partita for Violin Solo no. 3. The only thing is, after traveling for nearly 50 years, Voyager will lose its source of energy and no one knows exactly what’s coming afterwards. Perhaps it will be caught and flung away by another gravity force, or discovered by another spaceship thousands of years in the future. But we will lose our communications. And the Golden Record, attached on the ship, will afloat indefinitely in the midst of interstellar space.
Maybe Carl Sagan knew that there’s only a slim chance that aliens will discover this record. His Arecibo Message, a brief binary message about the biological buildings of the mankind, and NASA’s first attempt to send a message to the outer space, was a mere test of equipment rather than a genuine exercise to communicate to the universe. The message will arrive in 25974 and by then, the target planet will already move. Though we mysteriously find a “reply” in 2001, the whole intent of the project was more scientific than building relationship.
Alongside various NASA’s stylistic attempt to mark and announce our existence to the Universe, other smaller projects had also emerged around the world. Some of them are more realistic than Arecibo Message in terms of getting the message into possible lives-bearing planets. Teen Age Message (2001) was targeting a planetary system with a Sun-like star. And A Message from Earth (2008) was also sent to a terrestrial extrasolar planet orbiting a nearby star system. But despite their higher probability, none of these is as grounding as The Golden Record’s curated disk of humans’ stories.
The Golden Record, produced despite the Cold War, is a kind reminder that we ought to cherish this fragile life on this pale blue dot, our only tiny nest. Capturing various snapshots of our precious yet little and perhaps rare existence, in Maria Popova’s words, The Golden Record is “one of the greatest allegories for so much that we’re grappling with today.” She continued:
There were so many things about the Voyager that really ground you back into this longer view of time, one of which is, for example, this was happening in the middle of the Cold War. So to me, the more significant purpose of the Golden Record, the probability that another civilization would find it — it’s very small. But it mirrored back to humanity who we are, in this moment when we were so conflicted and polarized and had forgotten that we share this tender planet.”
I often thought; what if the sight of all these stars and galaxies is mere a blanket that wraps the Earth, like a dark cover that envelops our planet. Beyond the Earth, there is physically nothing. And the night view was set there by the gods and angels to give us perspective, us against the universe, the finite and the infinite. But, in the end, isn’t that what the night sky is all about? Until space travel is a reality, the night sky is a mere space we gaze at and listen to. And its purpose goes deep into our own internal universe.
Beyond the science, the quantum physics, and the mysterious dark matters, the night sky is the elegant backdrop for any kinds of existential ponderings, a search of meanings. Yet we are now more intrigued by the shiny objects on our hands and flashy images on the screen, where the sky is, just like water, a life-giving force that reinvigorates our sense of being. I think we owe so much to the sky, to the stars and the moon for expanding our horizon of thoughts and feeding our souls. And we owe them more of our time. Besides, we are all made of star-stuff, so it only makes sense that we feel the romance, the desire to return and to understand, towards the night sky.