Remember the famous opening scene from the 1997 sci-fi classic Contact--the one that shows just how far into deep space radio broadcasts bearing our music have traveled?
A new website turns that mind-blowing sci-fi conceit into a real-life interactive "map" that lets you track the progress of our favorite songs--some from as far back as 1915--as they beam out into the cosmos at the speed of light.
How far away has Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" gotten? How about The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction?" You can find out about those and many other hits from past decades on lightyear.fm.
"We were inspired by the opening of 'Contact' and thought it would be fun to make it interactive," Mike Lacher, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and developer who is one of the site's creators, told The Huffington Post in an email. "While it's certainly not scientifically accurate, we think it's a cool way to get a feeling for the vastness of the galaxy, and how very small we are. It's also good to think about just how far out our species has blasted the Macarena."
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Even at light-speed, radio waves take a long time to reach even nearby celestial objects. A song broadcast today would need about four years to reach Alpha Centauri, which at a distance of about 4.3 light-years is the nearest star other than the sun. To reach the North Star, 323 light-years from Earth, it would take 323 years.
According to the simulation, TLC's "Waterfalls," which ranked on the Billboard charts in 1995, is just now being heard about 20 light-years away from Earth. Bill Hayes' "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" (1955) is now about 60 light-years away, and American Quarter's "Chinatown, My Chinatown" (1915) is just now being heard about 100 light-years away.
Once the simulation reaches 110 light-years away from Earth, all falls silent. Why? Because that's the farthest our radio signals have gotten so far.
But the site's creators have ambitious plans to keep the simulation updated.
"We’ll keep it updated until Rebecca Black’s 'Friday' makes it to the first Earth-like planet with possibility of life," Brooklyn-based Brian Moore, the site's designer, told Wired. "I think we as a human race will want to delete any evidence of that track ever existing."
Still confused as to how traveling through space is the same as traveling through time? Check out the "Talk Nerdy To Me" episode below.