Science: Space: Monument
Encode Data in the Rings of Saturn   (+16, -5)  [vote for, against]
Like a cosmic record player.

The rings around Saturn are composed of various particles of silica rock, iron oxide, and ice.

A spacecraft is first introduced to the outer sections of the rings and put into a parking orbit just 'above' the plane of the ring such that the relative speed between the spacecraft and the particles in the ring is close to zero.

This spacecraft is constructed so as to have a narrow funnel-shaped tube along its length with the wide end of the funnel at the front. At the rear, a variable 'choke' can be used to widen or narrow the end of the funnel. The leading edges of the funnel are sharp and the spacecraft has an overall streamlined shape. We shall refer to this craft as 'The Plough'.

The Plough is brought into the plane of the outer ring, and given some speed so as to gently orbit the planet, scooping up ring material at the wide end of the funnel and condensing it into a well defined stream of material at the rear. Due to friction of the particles it moves through, it's orbit will gently decay, and as it comes around after its first full circumnavigation, it will continue to scoop up material, near to where it set off, creating a great long spiral, a well defined furrow of collected dust.

Ice particles can be harvested from the rings in order to power the on-board fusion reactor - failing that, a sterling engine taking advantage of the temperature difference between the sunny side of the (rather large) spacecraft and the side in shadow can be used to provide an ongoing source of power.

As the Plough traverses its gently decaying orbit, it is beamed all of the collected knowledge of mankind.

The Plough translates the signals by choking or unchoking the rear section of their tubes, leaving thin and thick portions in the ring's material.

It is a slow process, the data being recorded at a ponderous speed of around 1 bit per minute, but it's all on automatic, and once the data has been beamed, it is buffered and slowly written out in the rings.

Millions of years later, after the Plough has plunged into the surface of Saturn, the data can be decoded by reading the thick/thin patterns in each of the furrows.

The information so encoded should remain legible for billions of years hence. We ought to have the job complete by the time we elect to leave the solar system and eventually move on to pastures new.
-- zen_tom, May 09 2006

Apparently, there's a B-Side, too
[Dub, Jul 03 2011]

OT - Sounds like space http://scienceline..../sounds-like-space/
Listen to recordings collected by NASA's spacecraft [Dub, Jul 24 2011]

It would need to be a little more complicated than a funnel, since when the particles are ejected from the thin end, they would 'spray' outwards.
-- fridge duck, May 09 2006

If the walls of the narrow end of the funnel were slightly shock absorbing, then as the particles are squeezed together, the ones bouncing about the most should get calmed down. Hopefully reducing any spray effect. Since it is the width of the furrows that contains the information, and a wide furrow will spread at the same rate as a narrow one, our data should be preserved, until such time as the streams start crossing one another.
-- zen_tom, May 09 2006

Billions of years hence, when the sun eventually runs out of fuel, it will expand and become a red giant, engulfing Mercury, Venus, Earth, and potentially Mars - destroying them utterly, including anything that may be buried beneath those planet's surfaces.

Saturn's greater distance from the sun should keep it safe from such disasters, and maintain the record until such time as our solar system either collides with something, or is swallowed up by the super-massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

Either way, the information should last a whole lot longer.

But, if you prefer cheapness, we could try encoding the entirety of human knowledge on a stack of AOL CDs and launch them into the aether.
-- zen_tom, May 09 2006

// Primitive life forms have attempted to overwrite data contained in this file. Your file may be damaged. We recommend you save your file to another star system and delete this one //
-- normzone, May 09 2006

This idea is just loaded with bad (or missing) science.

//and put into a parking orbit just 'above' the plane of the ring such that the relative speed between the spacecraft and the particles in the ring is close to zero//
Nope, won't work. If it is to remain to one side of the plane, it will require constant corrective thrust to do so. As its own elliptical orbit intersects the center of the planetary mass, if part of the orbit plane is above the rings, then part will be below.

//Due to friction of the particles it moves through, it's orbit will gently decay, and as it comes around after its first full circumnavigation, it will continue to scoop up material, near to where it set off,//
true, but I think you underestimate just how much the decay will be. Of course, you could use some of the harvested ice to power steam thrusters, in order to control your decay rate.

//The information so encoded should remain legible for billions of years hence.//
How do you plan to eliminate entropy in the rings? Do you plan on precisely placing each dust particle so that it is not moving relative to the others in the stream? Will you eliminate the shepherd moons? How about tidal forces? Coriolis forces? Local self-gravitational effects of the rings? Even if you could write data to the rings, I doubt that it would remain legible for more than a couple centuries, max.

But I love the visual, so [+]
-- Freefall, May 09 2006

Be sure to remove all moons that orbit saturn first, or they will quickly distort your information. Probably need to remove Jupiter and Neptune for the same reason.
-- Galbinus_Caeli, May 09 2006

Re tidal forces - are they really going to affect the width of a given furrow? If anything, the increased density of material at the thicker parts of the signal, should allow for the material to grow more densely packed due to the gravitational attraction at short distances - if we do the maths right, our signals will actually gain clarity and definition (suiting a digital, over an analogue coding scheme) over time.
-- zen_tom, May 09 2006

Every pass of a moon will be like a stiring spoon.
-- Galbinus_Caeli, May 09 2006

I do like the idea that you could encode data in orbiting debris. If you had enough background data to account for drift and interference, it would make for a very 'bakery-like system.
-- normzone, May 09 2006

I think the rings are very dynamic. The reason that they are rings in the first place, not just a cloud of debris, is that the ring position is somehow gravitationally more favorable. I suspect that the carved out grooves would fray and vanish. You need something less mobile. Perhaps the surface of one of the martian moons?
-- bungston, May 10 2006

It's apparent that the data encoded in the rings can either be retrieved despite groove decay, or that the encoding form is not dependant on grooving.
-- normzone, May 10 2006

Perhaps each lump of ice could be encoded with a magnetic signature consisting of an address and a chunk of data.

This way it does not matter order they are read in, the data can be reconstructed in any order.

Each chunk of data should be recorded on a number of different lumps so if some are lost everything can still be reconstructed.
-- Galbinus_Caeli, May 10 2006

I'm not sure, but perhaps the iron-oxide material in the rings could be magnetised, thus turning Saturn into a massive floppy disk.
-- zen_tom, May 12 2006

In this vein, I have heard a theory advanced that stars are God's brain cells.
-- normzone, May 12 2006

I rather like that [normzone] - I can certainly believe that there might be a layer of complexity that exists between stars, galaxies and galactic clusters that's analogous to interactions between all of the smaller things in the universe (i.e. if it works for grains of sand, cells, ants, people, telephones and planets, why not stars, galaxies and beyond?). The size of the model suggests that if the theory is true, God is a slow thinker (though massively parallel processing might overcome the intra-cellular communication times (due to the massive distances involved) somehow)
-- zen_tom, May 12 2006

Groove decay. That's just such a cool term. I want a "Groove Decay" knob on my next synth.
-- BunsenHoneydew, May 14 2006

It would depend on how it was encoded - but you could use various methods such as:
Sending a narrow beam from a position distant and perpendicular to the rings, and have it follow the path of the grooves, measure the amount of reflected light, and you should get a signal.
Alternately, you could send a probe to orbit Saturn, skimming along above the rings, following the string of encoded data, reading magnetic density, ring thickness, or whatever method had been used to record the data in the first place.

-- zen_tom, May 15 2006

-- energy guy, May 15 2006

For the answer why, ask Ozymandias.
-- zen_tom, May 15 2006

Too funny. I can see it now. A previous civilization that was just passing through, or perhaps even the group that seeded Earth with our ancestors, left us this great treasure trove of useful data.

It contains solutions to many of our problems. Except for one: We don't have the tool necessary to read the data encoded. And the data is continuing to decay - we are behind the anticipated schedule for cooperating with each other and developing said tools.
-- normzone, May 15 2006

2026: Before writing our own data, we finally have a signal reading the existing data encoded on Saturn's rings. It reads:

"To solve all problems, eternal peace, harmony among all living beings, infinitly sustainable resources, all you have to do is to RIFTFT!... To solve all problems, eternal peace,...."

Somebody would need to whack the spaceship every once in awhile, eh? Maybe we could enlist a local moon....
-- sophocles, May 16 2006


By the way, that's not a moon, it's a space station ...
-- 8th of 7, Jul 03 2011

why not just make a really big ipod?
-- bob, Jul 04 2011

I like AOL CDs idea.
-- VJW, Jul 04 2011

What BunsenHoneydew said except that, to me, it sounds more like a medical condition suffered by ageing clubbers. It's final, debilitating stage is known as Embarrassing Dad syndrome.
-- DrBob, Jul 04 2011

random, halfbakery