Voyager 1: ‘Interstellar Media’mobile
[This blog post is a continuation of "Voyager 1 Reaches Interstellar Space" posted on Nature's Soapbox Science.]
Boldly Traveling Where No Archival Recording has Gone Before
(Above: Explore the Contents of the Golden Record —
NASA's Interactive Activity with Voyager 1)
Transportation of books and other media for sharing and circulation with our friends and neighbors has been around for centuries — occurring first on foot, then hoof, then motorized wheel, and now, inertia.
The fact is, "long before Amazon was bringing books to your doorstep, there was the Bookmobile! A travelling library often used to provide books to villages and city suburbs that had no library buildings, the bookmobile went from a simple horse-drawn cart in the 19th century to large customised vehicles that became part of American culture and reached their height of popularity in the mid-twentieth century." When it came to education, the bookmobile helped cross many barriers prior to Voyager 1's crossing into interstellar space. These barriers, however, were social. A sample collection of images of early [motorized] bookmobiles used in the US and abroad reveals how the bookmobile was critical to educational outreach. The images help capture how the library, and the bookmobile in particular, served as a tool used for inclusivity, crossing barriers of social class, race, gender, age, and geographic location. The bookmobile helped unite the planet — the wealthy and poor, black and white, young and old, inner city and remote mountains — by appealing to our common desire for learning and intellectual exploration and then reaching out to everyone.
The Things We Carry, that Carry Us, and Carry On
A brief history of the bookmobile
Use of the bookmobile was first reported to have occurred in England in the mid-1800s. It was called the perambulating library and, based on the published account of it, consisted of a man pushing a single-wheeled wheelbarrow onto which a box containing books was strapped.
The Warrington Perambulating Library utilized a horse-drawn carriage where "during the first year almost 12,000 books were borrowed from the perambulating library," and since then the bookmobile went on to become "one of the most revolutionary library advances of the nineteenth century" (Orton, I. (1980). An illustrated history of mobile library services in the United Kingdom: With notes on travelling libraries and early public library transport. Sudbury [Eng.: Branch and Mobile Libraries Group of the Library Association, p. 10).
In England, another "successful system of traveling libraries was begun by the public library of Melbourne in 1860. Oxford University in 1878 and Cambridge University soon after began to send out traveling libraries as an aid to their university extension courses."
By the early 1900s in America, Sarah Byrd Askew "began sending 'traveling libraries,' shipments of around 300 books, to community buildings throughout the state [of New Jersey]. She began shipping specific collections to libraries in New York and Connecticut by 1913, an early example of Interlibrary loan. In 1920, Askew designed one of the early [motorized] bookmobiles in the U.S.A., driving her Ford Model T to carry materials to people who did not have access to a library." In her book, The Place, The Man, and The Book (H. W. Wilson, New York, 1916, 2), Askew wrote how in her library, "there were books on the stars that glittered in the wind-swept sky." For example, she cited on page 20 a book on popular astronomy by Sir Robert Stawell Ball called Star-Land (1889). Star-Land was an introduction to popular astronomy for young readers, with chapters of his public lectures on "The Sun," "The Moon," "The inner planets," "The giant planets," "Comets and shooting stars," "Stars," and "How to name the stars." Ball served as the Astronomer Royal of Ireland who was appointed Lowndean Professor of Astronomy and Geometry at the University of Cambridge in 1892 and simultaneously director of the Cambridge Observatory, a position he served until his death in 1913. During his time at Cambridge, Ball enjoyed "an undisputed pre-eminence as a popular lecturer in Astronomy, and he became a familiar figure to large audiences in every part of the kingdom." It is with a bit of sadness, Askew would never know that Voyager 1 would travel with the stellar wind based on a concept she helped initiate, the bookmobile.
Carl Sagan's Love for Astronomy Began in the Library
Carl Sagan, who arguably gained greater recognition than Ball for his popularization of astronomy, was very much inspired by the library in his pursuit of understanding the cosmos. When Sagan was a child, The New York Public Library was busy making its rounds serving the City and the surrounding boroughs. An image of the NYPL bookmobile from the period that Sagan might have frequented can be seen here: Image ID: 434283 -- Work with schools, Bronx Traveling Library: people using bookmobile, 1938. It is probable, however, that the book Sagan needed was not there. It was a visit to the New York Public Library at age 5 (c. 1939/1940) that introduced him to astronomy:
Sagan had begun to wonder about the stars: what were they? He recalled one winter in Brooklyn when he was five years old. The stars, he said:
seemed to me different. They just weren't like everything else. And so I asked other kids what they were.... They said things like "they're lights in the sky, kid." I could tell they were lights in the sky, but what were they — little electric bulbs on long black wires? ... I asked my parents, they didn't know. I asked friends of my parents, they didn't know. [His mother suggested:] "I've just gotten you your first library card. Take the streetcar to the New Utrecht branch of the New York Public Library and find a book.... [The answer] has to be in a book." I went to the library. I asked the librarian for a book on the stars. She came back and gave me a book. I opened it. It was filled with pictures of people like Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. I was humiliated. I gave it back to her and said, "This wasn't the kind of stars I had in mind." She thought this was hilarious, which humiliated me further. She then went and got the right kind of book. I took it—a simple kid's book. I sat down on a little chair—a pint-sized chair—and turned the pages until I came to the answer. And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light.... And while I didn't know the [inverse] square law of light propagation or anything like that, still, it was clear to me that you would have to move that Sun enormously far away, further away than Brooklyn [for the stars to appears as dots of light] .... The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. [It was] kind of a religious experience. [There] was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.
In Cosmos (Random House, New York, 1980, 282), Sagan would later write, "Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species. Public libraries depend on voluntary contributions. I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries." Sagan's own personal papers, comprised of 595,000 items, were donated to the Library of Congress in 2012.
It is fitting that a man who learned so much about astronomy through reading and the library would give back by creating a traveling bookmobile for intelligent, curious life among in the stars who might one day look back at us and read and listen, and wonder about what's "here" just as he wondered what was "out there."
Voyager Golden Record Cover. (Image credit: Wikipedia).
(Click image to enlarge).
Recently, Jon Lomberg, Sagan's collaborator and the artist who designed the cover plate for the Voyager 1 record wanted to carry on the concept. The New Horizons Message Initiative is a project that "hopes to persuade NASA to upload a crowd-sourced message" to the New Horizons "spacecraft's memory, following a successful Pluto encounter. The form and content of the message are yet to be determined, but will probably consist of pictures and, possibly, sounds." The first 10,000 people who sign up (pending NASA's approval of the project) will have their name uploaded for its future interstellar journey.
The disk contained selections of music, greetings in 55 languages, 21 Earth sounds, 116 images, including a page from section three of Sir Isaac Newton's The System of the World, which was published with his Principia. Principia is the publication where Newton outlined his laws of gravitation, the first being that of inertia--the law of motion currently propelling Voyager 1 and its golden record through interstellar space.
Newton Image Sent on Voyager 1 on the Nature of Gravitation and Inertia from Principia Mathematica.
(Image credit: NASA JPL).
(Click image to enlarge).
Available "Open Data" from Voyager 1
Scientific instruments aboard Voyager 1 are expected to continue working until 2025. Scientists wishing to use data from Voyager 1 may find it spread out among several locations and institutions, including:
● NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), HelioWeb database, and Heliophysics Data Portal, as well as its additional data holdings on magnetic fields, and energetic particles.
● Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, where scientists employed there were recently interviewed about their findings from their data analyses of Voyager 1's interstellar journey in an article published in the journal Science. The article mistakenly claimed in its title "It's Official—Voyager Has Left the Solar System," contributing to some of the confusion around the spacecraft's location in interstellar space. (For details, see my earlier post: Voyager 1 Reaches Interstellar Space).
● NASA's Planetary Data System.
● The University of Iowa, home to the lead author who published joint data findings during September 2013 in the article, "In Situ Observations of Interstellar Plasma with Voyager 1", in the journal Science.
● The University of Maryland.
[Note: Some links in this article are currently unavailable due to the US government shutdown].