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Europa Clipper Plate Carries A Special Message

NASA sends a new mission from one ocean world to another - the Europa Clipper spacecraft - and continues a tradition that started with the Pioneer Plaque and the Voyager's Golden Record. And an even longer tradition in science fiction!

(NASA's Europa Clipper vault plate in 3D)

Water connects our planet Earth with Jupiter's moon Europa. The Europa Clipper mission aims to confirm that a vast ocean exists beneath Europa's icy surface, making it a promising place to study habitability for life beyond Earth. This shared element of water inspired the Europa Clipper team to engrave designs that celebrate human connections and our collective spirit of exploration on a triangular metal plate. The plate, made of tantalum metal about 1 millimeter thick and about 7 by 11 inches (18 by 28 centimeters), is part of the structure that will protect Europa Clipper’s electronics from Jupiter’s harmful radiation.

Water connects all life as we know it, and all human cultures. The outward-facing side of the vault plate features "Water Words" — a visual representation of the word for water in 103 spoken languages, extending from a central symbol that represents the sign for water in American Sign Language. Professional linguists helped to collect a diverse and inclusive sampling of human language families from across the globe. Audio recordings of these words are engraved on the vault plate as waveforms – visual representations of each sound.

(NASA's Europa Clipper vault plate in 3D)

This is an early precursor to the Pioneer plaques:

The Pioneer plaques are a pair of gold-anodized aluminum plaques that were placed on board the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft, featuring a pictorial message, in case either Pioneer 10 or 11 is intercepted by intelligent extraterrestrial life. The plaques show the nude figures of a human male and female along with several symbols that are designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft.

(The Pioneer plaque)

Science fiction fans may recall the metal message in space from The Menace From Space, by John Edwards, published by Wonder Stories in 1934:

“Seems to have been rolled up some time, to judge from the spring in it," observed Haskell. Morrison nodded. “That is not surprising, if it comes from the place I surmise.” Bradbury, who had temporarily forgotten even his beloved red moss in this new development, looked at him inquiringly, but Morrison was concentrating upon the sheet of inscriptions. This was about eight inches wide, and had unrolled to a length of two feet or so. Near the left-hand edge as they looked at it was inscribed a disc which, from the multitude of rays emanating from it, might be taken to represent the sun. Very close to this was a tiny circle, while three slightly larger discs were shown at varying distances of a few inches. Extending across the full width of the right-hand end of the sheet, rvas a series of curved scratches upon which was super-imposed a vertical arrangement of strange letters. A similar series of vertical characters in several columns, and of smaller size, occupied the top left corner.

(The alien chart from 'The Menace From Space' by John Edwards)

Similar printing, if such it was, labeled each small disc.

Over all, on the left, right, top, and bottom of this strange “chart" were four great symbols which could be taken for nothing else but a variation of arrow-heads, indicating direction.

There was a dead silence for several minutes in the library, while each man formed his own conclusions about the queer chart before them. Then Morrison heaved a great sigh as he stood back from the table.

“There,” he said impressively, “you have a universal cryptogram — yet it is one which can be interpreted by any intelligent creature on any planet in the Solar System! The printing we cannot interpret straight away — but that matters little. The sketch is self-explanatory; that is, to anyone endowed with average intelligence.”

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