Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A 'Post-It Note' for the Next 10,000 Years

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A 'Post-It Note' for the Next 10,000 Years

Article excerpt

DEEP TIME: HOW HUMANITY COMMUNICATES ACROSS MILLENNIA By Gregory Benford Bard

225 pp., $20

Last week's list taped on the fridge is confusing. Old notes from college are baffling. Chaucer hardly seems like English. And what's the point of those statues on Easter Island? If past forms of communication are any guide, it won't be easy to leave a message for the next few thousand years. Gregory Benford, a physicist at the University of California, is also a renowned science-fiction author. In this engaging and readable book, his first work of popular nonfiction, Benford recounts four personal experiences with sending messages to future generations. "Ten Thousand Years of Solitude" is an unnerving account of his service on an advisory panel to the Department of Energy regarding the siting of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, outside Carlsbad, N.M. The plan is to store up to 800,000 barrels of radioactive waste in salt caves a half-mile below the desert. Congress specified that the site should remain undisturbed for the next 10,000 years, until the level of radiation decays to undetectable levels. The problem is how to identify the site as dangerous to future societies for a period longer than the historic record of humanity. The implication is clear that the hazards of our nuclear technology are likely to outlive our civilization by a considerable margin. The second essay, "Vaults in Vacuum," takes an even longer view. NASA's Cassini mission is planned to arrive at the planet Saturn in 2004. Shortly afterward, the Huygens lander will separate and descend to the surface of the moon Titan, where it will likely sink beneath the frozen methane oceans of the moon. Benford and several colleagues suggested to the spacecraft's designers that a small diamond disk be attached, bearing a message to any future discoverers. …

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