By Wayne Boyd
The human race will be much changed. The reason the golden record was included on the Voyager spacecrafts was twofold. The main reason was a mechanism to inspire public interest (and therefore funding) for the project, which was to explore the outer planets in our solar system and interstellar space. The other reason was that Voyager I was going to pass within 1.6 light years of the star called Gliese 445 in about 40,000 years. In case any intelligent space traveling beings over there might notice Voyager I drift by their star 1.6 light years away, they might go out, retrieve it, and discover the Golden Record.
To compare that to us, if an alien spacecraft the size of Voyager I passed by within 1.6 years of our own sun we would not be able to detect it. It’s too small, and out many times farther than the Voyagers are now from Earth. It would be many times outside the solar system entirely.
Now, let’s assume that 40,000 years from now Voyager I is drifting by within 1.6 light years of Gliese 445 which is 17.1 light years away from us and alien astronomers on a planet over there did somehow notice it. Let’s say their alien scientists then launched a probe to investigate and find the Golden Record. What would happen? That’s the essence of your question, right? Well, let’s look at it.
To send a probe from an alien world to Voyager I as it passes by the star Gliese 445 their probe would have to travel 1.6 light years, which would take thousands of years. But once reaching Voyager I, the probe could communicate back to their alien world in only 1.6 years, with a 3.2 year return signal. So let’s say they did it.
The Golden Record is designed to indicate to an advanced alien civilization that other intelligent beings are “out there.” This would be extremely exciting for them to realize someone else (Earth) is out there. They might try to send a radio signal in our direction to let us know the message was received. The message would take 17.1 years to reach Earth, so basically, 45,000 years from now the message from the aliens might reach Earth, but would anyone still be around to listen? My estimate of time is the 40,000 years for Voyager I to reach that far, another 4,000 years or so for their space probe to reach Voyager, and a few years communicating with the probe to figure out what it found. Nothing here is true math. It’s just very round, hypothetical numbers.
Once the aliens realized there was another planet with intelligent beings on it, they might try to communicate with us even though we are more than 17 light years from them.
So a form of communication could eventually be established. Considering the speed of light with a return message taking 34 or 35 years (the time in light years and back) it would be a slow, gradual communication. Interstellar travel between the two civilizations would not be feasible, however. It would take the spacecraft about the same time as it took Voyager, or maybe they could half the time with some kind of alien propulsion system. UFO conspiracies aside, travel over those distances isn’t realistic.
The best could be communication.
Then again, the human race will probably be much changed 45,000 years from now and who knows if anyone will be listening by then, or conversely, if there is an alien civilization orbiting on a planet around Gliese 445 now, will they still be around by the time Voyager I reaches there?
Some people on Earth would not believe it or even care. Scientists, if there are any scientists left 45,000 years from now would be excited. I’d imagine it would be about the same for the aliens, but who knows what kind of organization they might have over there.
Basically, it would be largely ignored by the public.