I am the daughter of Earth and Water, And the nursling of the sky; I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; I change but I cannot die.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cloud
The longest lived artifacts of humanity are our interstellar probes. Long after the Egyptian Pyramids and Great Wall of China have crumbled to dust, the Stonehenge megaliths have been reclaimed by the English countryside and the Eifel Tower and Lady Liberty have fallen, Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 will cruise the trackless void of the galaxy. Forever silent after the exhaustion of their radionuclide batteries, pitted by occasional impacts of interstellar dust grains, these craft and their successors will be recognisable artifacts billions of years in our future.
Amazing fictional technologies have been postulated in Star Trek and elsewhere, whereby advanced spacefarers can detect silent alien spaceprobes at distances of a parsec or more. These magical sensing techniques may be forever beyond our grasp. But what if a hyper-advanced species detects and retrieves a Pioneer or Voyager on its silent journey using technologies beyond our ken? Could some part of the probeis payload tell these advanced extraterrestrials something about its planet of origin and its long-dead creators?
Such speculations go far beyond the confines of science to encompass art, philosophy and theology. Before launch, message plaques were affixed to the structure of the Pioneers and Voyagers. Following this precedent, it is quite likely that all future robotic emissaries to the Galaxy will contain such messages.
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