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Pioneer space plaque and redesign

Hmmm, looking at your magic-based redesigned plaque for the pioneer spacecraft, I couldn't help but think that the levitation motif might be a red herring. I like the idea of astonishment and excitement but couldn't levitation be confused for still life on a planet with little or no gravity? I guess there's a simple answer to this - I just don't know it!



-- Russ Hendy (email)

Response to Is the plaque design right?

The question refers to my redesign of the Pioneer spacecraft plaque at [and also posted below in this thread]

SETI theorizing usually argues that other civilizations will be far more technically advanced than ours and so they will probably figure out any reasonable scientific communication. Indeed the drawing of the Pioneer spacecraft and our planetary system on the plaque, along with Newton's Inverse Square Law (which holds universally), will help the ET's avoid misunderstanding a drawing they will never get.

-- Edward Tufte

Response to Is the plaque design right?

While the article has its tongue firmly in cheek, it does provide an opportunity to discuss an important point in creating meaningful communications.

Whenever we evaluate any form of communication, we need to consider the relevance to the audience. The fallacy in the article is that the intended audience is an as-yet unknown otherworldly intelligence. It is not. The likelihood that the plaque will ever encounter another being is exceedingly remote. And even if it does, the use of the primarily visual medium assumes that the extraterrestrial entity will be able to decode, interpret, and understand a two-dimensional message, or will even be of a physical size to make sense of the message. I doubt even Dr. Sagan thought this was a likely scenario.

No, the intended audience was, is, and will continue to be the United States taxpayer. And, with this audience in mind, the plaque meets its goal; it contains enough technical and non-technical information as is needed to convince those who ponied up the money that we have successfully sent a meaningful message to another world.

-- LJ Skaggs (email)

This is an interesting point about the intended audience. But it is problematic to attribute motivations to people 30 years ago.

The plaque is a curious nice try, a one in billions and billions shot in the dark. Better to have a plaque than not.

The redesigned plaque works with the idea of the universality of Nature's laws, which is the implicit and valid assumption of the original plaque.

Here is a description of the plaque from Visual Explanations (pp. 150-151):

And here again is the redesign:

-- Edward Tufte

Mr Pioneer, adapted to illustrate how big the Wikipedia would be if it were printed out. Here's the link.

-- Niels Olson (email)


I just saw your Airstream Interplanetary Explorer last night at Fermilab. Delightful!

One question about the plaque: I believe the spin states of both of your hydrogen atoms (top left of the plaque) are identical. In the original plaque, the spin state is reversed to show the hyperfine transition of neutral hydrogen. Was this intentional?

Also, it could be that I did not see correctly. Sorry if that's the case.

Regards, Bryan

-- Bryan (email)