SpaceX sent a nerdy Easter egg into space, but can anyone read it?

02-08 08:05
With any luck, alien civilizations will one day be able to read the works of Isaac Asimov and tap into his imagined Encyclopedia Galactica

. That’s the hope, anyway.

Tesla wasn't shy about advertising its launch of a Tesla Roadster on board aFalcon Heavy rocket, on Tuesday. But it was less vocal about that Roadster's secret cargo: a tiny optical disc, known as an Arch (pronounced "ark"). Theoretically, this format of disc can hold 360TB per disc, and the one on board the launched car contains Asimov's  Foundation book trilogy.

Unlike traditional optical discs, according to the Arch Mission’s press release , this Arch disc is "written by a femtosecond laser on quartz silica glass," and its data is "encoded digitally as 20nm gratings, formed by plasma disruptions from the laser pulses."

  • The first five Archs produced. Elon Musk has one in his personal care.

  • The very first Arch library, numbered "00001:000001."

  • Information on the decoder key.

  • A simpler representation of where the decoder key is in relation to the rest of the disc's data placement.

  • Information taken from a "5D Data Storage" whitepaper.

  • More from the same whitepaper.

"Each dot encodes 8 bits in 5 dimensions of light," the group states. "Theoretical capacity is 360TB per disk, and the Archs are stable for 14B+ years. No other medium offers this kind of data capacity and durability."

However, the ambitious group was not immediately able to explain exactly how this data could be read by other humans who don’t have specialized hardware to access the data, much less alien civilizations in the future.

"A message to future humans"

On its website, the Arch Mission Foundation explains that it hopes that future recipients of the Arch will somehow be able to decode the device and build the necessary computer to read it. (The Foundation does not explain exactly how other civilizations will be able to understand any of Earth’s written languages.)

"Beyond the visual layer, we also are encoding higher resolution data for audiences with access to lasers and computer-based digital technology," the group writes . "Here we can store truly big data sets, but it is more difficult for a recipient to access this data. To facilitate this, on the visual layers above this layer, we will include instructions for how to access and decode digital data, and if necessary how to build a computer and laser to do so."

The effort is vaguely reminiscent of the 1977 Voyager 1 mission, which contained a visual and audio representation of human civilization on Carl Sagan's famed "Golden Record."

The Arch Mission Foundation non-profit organization plans to launch three more Arches in the coming years.

Nova Spivack , co-founder of Arch Mission, told Ars that his group plans on sending up thousands, or even millions, of quartz discs and other types of storage devices in various media each time a spacecraft launches.

"We are trying to send a message to future humans," he said. " We don’t have to teach them physics or teach them math.  We want to design objects for those locations, we want to design objects that are designed purposefully for data miners.  In that scenario you want to give them a lot of data and help them apply machine learning to figure out what’s in the data. The biggest challenge isn't: can they get the data? The question is: will they understand what it all means?”

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