Plaque created by NASA for Pioneer 10 (1972) and 11 (1973)

NASA plaque


from E. H. Gombrich, “The Visual Image” (Scientific American, Sept. 1972, p. 90).

According to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration press release, in the early 1970s NASA equipped a Pioneer deep-space probe with this pictorial plaque “on the off chance that somewhere on the way it is intercepted by intelligent scientifically educated beings.”

NASA explains that the connected circles at the top of the image represent the nucleus of the hydrogen atom, and the pattern of radiating lines stands for the 14 pulsars of the Milky Way, the whole being designed to locate the sun. It adds that the man has his right hand raised in greeting. 

What would an alien, or rather, an “intelligent scientifically educated” being, need to know to interpret this picture? Where could you go wrong trying to sort out its meaning?

Pioneer, showing where the plaque is attached

The plaque, 9" x 6", was made of gold-anodized aluminum and was attached to the antenna support struts, shielding it from space dust and debris

Click here for a key to the plaque's meanings