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Moon and Aldebaran

February 23, 2018

A starship is headed toward the vicinity of the eye of the celestial bull. It’ll take a couple of million years to get there, and it’ll be dead quiet along the way. But just in case anyone finds it, it carries a helpful road map to help them figure out where it came from.

The bull’s eye is the bright orange star Aldebaran. It stands to the lower right of the Moon as night falls, and leads the Moon down the western sky later on.

Aldebaran is about 65 light-years away. In other words, the star’s light, traveling at 670 million miles per hour, takes about 65 years to reach us.

The Pioneer 10 spacecraft isn’t moving nearly that fast. When it was dispatched to explore the planet Jupiter, in 1972, it was the fastest probe ever launched, moving at more than 32 thousand miles per hour. And the Sun’s gravitational pull has slowed it down since then. So the craft is no Millennium Falcon — it’ll take about two million years to approach Aldebaran.

And it won’t be saying anything when it gets there. Its nuclear power source has faded, so it’ll be nothing more than a hunk of cold metal as it traverses the galaxy. Even so, it can convey a message. The craft carries a plaque designed to help anyone who finds Pioneer learn something about its makers and its home. The plaque includes drawings of a nude man and woman, as well as some directions for tracing its path — the path followed by one of the first starships from the solar system.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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