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New Horizons Message Update

If you want to send a message to the stars, Jon Lomberg is the man to consult. A gifted artist and creator of the gorgeous Galaxy Garden in Kona, Hawaii, Lomberg may be most famous for his frequent work with Carl Sagan, including the celebrated Cosmos series. But it’s his involvement with the Voyager Interstellar Record, a project for which he served as design director, that makes him so uniquely qualified to embark on a new messaging effort, the One Earth: New Horizons Message project.


Let’s talk about Voyager and how the new message differs. 115 images and 27 musical selections went into the Voyager record, along with abundant audio of the life and natural sounds of our planet. The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk included spoken greetings in fifty-five languages beginning with Akkadian (a language of ancient Sumer) and ending with Wu, a modern Chinese dialect. The ninety minutes of music can be played at 16 ⅔ revolutions per minute using a cartridge and needle enclosed within the record’s protective jacket.

We knew that the Voyagers would eventually leave the Solar System, which was why putting a message from humanity on them suggested itself. In the absence of a current mission being built to do the same thing, reasoned Lomberg, why not upload a message to the one we already have in progress, the New Horizons probe to Pluto/Charon? The plan is to create the message not through a small committee but a worldwide crowd-sourced effort in which people will build a self-portrait of Earth. Over 10,000 people from more than 140 countries signed the original petition urging NASA to send the Message. The team hopes that thousands more will submit ideas for its content.

Image: Jon Lomberg, project director for the One Earth: New Horizons Message effort.

If the Voyager record carried pictures and sound, we could do the same for New Horizons, sending all of our content to the spacecraft once it has completed its encounter with Pluto/Charon and any later Kuiper Belt Object the spacecraft may be able to study. Software and 3D files are another possibility, limited only by the memory constraints of the New Horizons onboard computers, which have been under active study by the One Earth technical team. Unlike the Voyager and earlier Pioneer messages, this is a message that can be updated and improved as long as the spacecraft is in communication with the Earth, which could be a matter of decades.

A news release dated today announces the start of an online fundraising campaign designed by Fiat Physica, which specializes in raising money for science projects. Readers are encouraged to visit the site to view a video on the project. From the release:

We have determined that the message is technically feasible. We are confident of a message lifetime of tens of millennia in the computer memory, and can take steps to increase the message’s durability beyond that. Our submission website will be constructed by the iScience group at the University of Koblenz, under the direction of Ulf-Dietrich Reips. One main goal of the fundraising is to gather the funds required to build this site. We hope to have the submission site ready before the July encounter. We will announce soon when the project is ready to receive submissions.

Messages like those aboard Voyager and New Horizons are designed for the people of Earth as much as any extraterrestrial beings that may, in some remote future, encounter them. Having completed its mission, New Horizons will leave the Solar System in the general direction of Sagittarius, toward the center of the Milky Way, though not in the direction of any specific star. The odds of interception are obviously minute, and the data will be sent to the spacecraft on standard radio links connecting Earth with all NASA spacecraft, representing no increase in the risk of detection beyond messaging traffic that is already in progress. In other words, the One Earth Message, although designed to be found by aliens, almost certainly will not be.

Why, then, send it in the first place? Lomberg and his eighty-strong advisory board believe that creating a message to represent all of us is a priceless educational and cultural opportunity, allowing us to step back and view our ‘pale blue dot’ in a whole new way. Shaping such a message so as to be intelligible to non-humans is itself a challenge with abundant learning opportunities. Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons, is a strong supporter of the One Earth Message, as is the New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Please have a look at the One Earth Message site and consider getting involved.

“This will be a message from and to the Earth,” says Jon Lomberg. “The very act of creating it will be a powerful reminder that we all share the same, small planet. We truly are one Earth.”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Wendy Morris April 14, 2015, 22:07

    Fantastic idea; Jon you are a legend! One day I will get to Hawaii and see your Galaxy Garden :)

  • ljk April 15, 2015, 10:46

    It is good to know if New Horizons is heading in the general direction of Sagittarius, which is also the location of the galactic center, that there are some exoplanets also in that vicinity:


  • DCM April 15, 2015, 11:47

    As long as whoever finds it can’t find us.

  • ljk April 15, 2015, 11:56

    The other items on New Horizons, including the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh:


    Every deep space vessel should have some form of information package on them, both for identification purposes and for preserving at least some aspects of humanity.

    Would we not be more than a little grateful if a derelict alien probe wandered into our Sol system bearing information about its makers? Not to mention it would also help alleviate fears assuming it was a peaceful explorer like Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and now New Horizons.

    As for the original METI packages that were placed aboard the Pioneer and Voyager probes being made by only a small team of people, while this is true it is also true that without their efforts, it is likely our first ambassadors into the Milky Way galaxy would have been bereft of any informative artifacts save a few trinkets.

    The Pioneer plaques and Voyager records have also helped to bridge the educational gap between the Two Cultures of the arts/humanities and science/engineering. A very recent example is the art form Interstellar Emissary by the group Desert Wizards of Mars, who “believes there should be no division between art and science when it comes to building inspirational creations that bring out the awe and wonder in us all.”

    The inspiration for their art should look familiar:


  • Michael April 16, 2015, 0:37

    I am wondering that in 100 to 200 years all our early probes will be collected and in museums on Earth or the nearest star they will pass as they are passed by other craft. I mean in forty thousand years of future development we could be half way across the galaxy before they even reach the nearest stars.

  • Mark Zambelli April 16, 2015, 6:03

    Perhaps any messages we send out there that rely on hardware (rather than EM signals) will perform the role of time-capsules for our descendants. The odds of an ETI finding any of our probes are beyond slim (ignoring L Ron Hubbards take in “Battlefield Earth” where the Psychlos find the gold in the disc too good to pass up and head our way) so I find it more likely that one day, when we are a true spacefaring species, we may actively go searching for our ancient probes that are crawling through interstellar space using their last known trajectory.

    The Voyagers et al will take several tens of millenia to perform very remote flybys of stars along their paths as we know, so if it takes us a few thousand years to become that spacefaring species we might find a connection to our remote past (ie nowadays) too enticing to just leave these ambassadors alone to their wanderrings… future archeologists take note.

    If we can start our encyclopedia galactica volume then the probes may provide long lost data that might be priceless. But maybe not. Even if the task of locating our probes isn’t insurmountable maybe we would still leave them alone; afterall, they are still messages-in-bottles and would still be our calling cards even after any future collapse of our far distant, multi-stellar civilization / colonies /outposts.

    One of the most haunting images of spaceart I recall (the artist escapes me) is a view out of an icy cave on some far distant airless moon with an ancient, pitted, banged-up Voyager laying mostly exposed on the glacier outside bathed in starlight. Stirring image indeed but I’d rather see one of the Voyagers on display inside a protective diamond-film case surrounded by excited child-units waving their quiverring purple tentacles at it while their museum-curator calmly explains through clicks, whistles and skin-colour-pattern-displays what it is and who they have learned sent it in their general direction a million years before. To have the Earth and us be included on an alien childs school-trip would be something.

  • Mark Zambelli April 16, 2015, 6:16

    The whole point of including our address in the form of a pulsar triangulation map is so that any ETI should be able to work out where the probes came from. “See that star there?… this probe came from a species on the third planet”. I seriously doubt that if any probe is found when expected, namely tens of thousands of years hence, we’ll have to fear contact by then.

  • ljk April 16, 2015, 12:59

    Orion’s Arm has an amusing take on what might happen to the Voyager 1 probe if it is discovered in a galaxy ten thousand years hence full of Artilects:


    And a less amusing but still interesting encounter with Pioneer 10 also in the Orion’s Arm universe:


    OA is still looking for Voyager 2, but nothing was said about the fate of Pioneer 11.

    Star Trek fans know what became of Pioneer 10 in that universe, no thanks to the abysmal 1989 film Star Trek V:


    And we know what became of Voyager 6 thanks to the first Star Trek film, which oddly only had a name plate – which the highly advanced machine aliens who found the probe and turned it into what would become known as V’Ger did not seem to be able to clean off to get the probe’s full true name.


    However they did leave the pulsar map on the plate so any smart ETI could still find Earth.

  • ljk April 16, 2015, 13:15

    Why Send a Message to the Stars?

    By: Mark Washburn 2 days ago

    We announce the opening of our crowd-funding campaign for One Earth: New Horizons Message Project. With the encouragement of NASA and the New Horizons Mission, we are developing a message to the stars to be uploaded to the computer aboard the spacecraft following its July, 2015 encounter with Pluto. New Horizons will become the fifth human-made object to leave the solar system, and like the four spacecraft it follows, it will carry a specially crafted message from Earth designed to be understood by any extraterrestrial lifeform that may someday come upon our vessels of discovery.

    Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? But, you might well ask, who are we and why do we presume to speak for Earth? For that matter, why even send such a message, given the overwhelming odds against its ever being received? Space is vast, and even if the galaxy is teeming with intelligent, spacefaring civilizations – which it might very well be, given what we have lately learned about the ubiquity of exoplanets – our tiny spacecraft are unlikely ever to encounter ET. So why do it?

    To paraphrase Jefferson, a decent respect for the opinions of humankind requires us to explain ourselves. That, in essence, is the purpose of this blog.
    First, who are we? The One Earth: New Horizons Message Project currently consists of about eighty people recruited worldwide to a Board of Advisors by Project Director Jon Lomberg, who came up with the idea in 2013. Jon is an Emmy Award-winning, internationally renowned astronomical artist.

    He became famous for his many collaborations with Carl Sagan, including the original Cosmos series and the creation of the iconic Voyager Interstellar Record. He served as Design Director for the Record, and originally conceived the New Horizons Message as a sort of Voyager Record 2.0.

    The world is much changed since the 1977 launch of the two Voyager spacecraft – now leaving the solar system behind as they enter interstellar space – and Jon thought it was time for a twenty-first century message.

    Full article here:


  • ljk April 16, 2015, 18:04

    Let us hope New Horizons makes it through the Pluto and KBO systems intact so it can deliver those message to the galaxy….


  • ljk April 20, 2015, 13:13

    As the evolved David Bowman said in the 1984 film 2010, expect “something wonderful” at Pluto:


    Just no explosions, please. New Horizons has a very long mission after Pluto it must conduct.

  • ljk April 22, 2015, 16:15

    A Message to the Stars, a Message to Earth

    By: Mark Washburn

    9 hours ago

    A writer should never quote himself, and I am about to compound the crime by quoting someone in the act of quoting me. Last fall, in an email to Jon Lomberg discussing the Project, I wrote, almost in passing, “To me, the most important part of the Project has always been the message to Earth aspect. Literally nothing is more important than raising a planetary consciousness, a planetary perspective, given the global problems we will face in this century. We can play a worthwhile part in that.”

    Jon thought those few lines were a concise statement of the true meaning and value of the Project. He adopted them as a sort of Project motto, and stuck them up on our website as the second paragraph of our presentation.

    What I wrote, and what Jon did with it, tells much about why we – and many others – are engaged in this seemingly quixotic effort to send a message to ET. We sincerely believe that intelligent extraterrestrial species do exist in our galaxy, and even a symbolic attempt to contact them is worthwhile. But the symbolism inherent in the Message runs in both directions, and it is also very much a Message to Earth.

    We need the Message. The very act of creating it – crowd-sourcing it to seven billion people – will remind us that, for all our differences, we share the same heritage and future on this small and fragile world. Creating the Message, whatever its final content, will require us to think about ourselves in new ways. How do we see ourselves? How would we want others to see us? What is important to us? The Message Project will inspire people throughout the world to ask such questions. The answers they arrive at may well be revealing and instructive. The answers may, in fact, be vital to our future.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    The planet is in trouble. Its residents – human and otherwise – face perils of a kind and degree never before experienced. If we are to deal effectively with these threats, we will need to start thinking about our planet in new ways.

    That’s where we come in. That’s why we call ourselves “One Earth.” The Message is an attempt to speak for Earth. There will be many voices involved, but just one Earth. We cannot speak to the stars as individuals, or even as nations, only as a planet. And the echoes of whatever we say to the stars will resound back here – on our One Earth.

  • ljk April 24, 2015, 16:49

    This blog piece on the One Earth Message project has the mission patch:


    NBC News does its take on the project and mission of New Horizons:


  • ljk April 29, 2015, 8:07

    New Horizons Probe to Send Message to Interstellar Space

    Posted on Tuesday, April 28th, 02015 by Charlotte Hajer

    If you could tell the universe about planet Earth, what would you say?

    The One Earth Message Initiative is sending a missive to the stars, and they want your input.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    In other words, the New Horizons message is a way to start a conversation – with alien life, but also with ourselves. Aside from a form of communication, we might also think of it as a self-portrait. Like the Rosetta Disk aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe, the New Horizons message will be a record of who we are as a global community. As Laura Welcher said of the Rosetta mission:

    “It’s interesting to think why people do this, why we send messages into space. I think partly we’re trying to commemorate special events … partly we’re also trying to communicate with ourselves; our current selves, and perhaps our future selves. … These messages that we’re sending into space are proxies for us. They are our ambassadors, and they go where we physically cannot go.”