back to article Boffins build BEELLION-YEAR storage medium

Dutch and German boffins have proposed a write-once-read-many storage medium they say should survive for a million years and may be readable after a billion. Described in a paper titled “Towards Gigayear Storage Using a Silicon-Nitride/Tungsten Based Medium”, available here, the five authors explain that in order to store data …


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  1. PhilipN

    Sorry - "prone"

    Three quarters of the way down the article

  2. ecofeco Silver badge

    OMG, You know what this means?!

    The billion year fool is about to be invented!

    We're doomed.

  3. Tac Eht Xilef

    Finally - something for Scientologists to write their contracts on!

  4. cortland

    Pictures or it isn't so.

  5. poopypants

    Far too mundane

    They should build a super powerful laser, point it somewhere into space and modulate it with the desired information. A million years in the future, when faster than light travel has been achieved, they can then skip a million light years to the front of the beam and retrieve all the information.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Far too mundane

      ...or you just need a mirror 500,000 light years away. There's probably some reflective cloud of dust / gravitational lensing effect out there just waiting to be exploited.

      Of course, it's been done before on a smaller scale. Google "delay line memory"

    2. Martin Budden

      Re: Far too mundane

      There is no need to store the information for as long as a million years. We only need to store it until a time-travel receiver has been built: from that point on, people can just go back/forwards to find out what the information was/will be.

      Mine's the one with the packet of peanuts in the pocket.

  6. frank ly

    A small detail is missing

    What is the form of the data storage? The article mentions light and electron beams passing through the protective coating. Is it some energy induced phase change of the tungsten structure? Is the data carved onto the tungsten surface and then the protective coating applied afterwards? Because of the picture used in the title, I'll assume that its carvings on the surface, followed by a protective coating.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: A small detail is missing

      That's what it sounded like to me. From the way they described things, I kept thinking it would be an optical disc format of some sort.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: A small detail is missing

      "I'll assume that its carvings on the surface"

      Yes. Reading is an ultra-violet laser. Writing is a very, very, teeny, tiny angle grinder.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    EMC is going to be all over this....

    Because they can sell a million-year support contract with it!

  8. jake Silver badge

    The only problem is retrieval ...

    How many bits of stored information fewer than than 5,000 years old remain untranslated?

    Technology and civilization changes, over the eons ...

    1. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: The only problem is retrieval ...

      "Yes we stored all the world knowledge into this tiny thing here! Sorry? A copy of the Babelfish database too? Ooops!"

  9. Schultz

    Storage of storage

    I'd say that the storage location is much more important that the storage material.

    Tungsten is well beloved for its high melting point and that seems to be the relevant property the boffins rave about when they propose etching of information onto tungsten. But if you want to keep stuff for elongated amounts of time, you have to worry about where to store the stuff.

    St. Catherine's in the Sinai desert apparently has a good record on the order of millenia, mostly because it was far enough from the rest of civilization and those occasional wars didn't interfere with the storage location. For millions of years you should probably encase the thing in ice and send it on a loong-loong trajectory far away from our sun.

    Who knows what kind of data they destroyed when shot that message capsule Tempel 1 .

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Storage of storage

      I agree. Tungsten is too useful. Sounds like a buried bunker on the Moon is the correct place to use.

      You can paint the moon's surface with a big arrow telling everyone where the heechee prayer fans can be found. You can also set up a primer to read all the stuff.

      It will even be useful for random space explorers who happen to drop by a slightly radioactive ball of slag.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Better remember to archive the stoarge device and protocol specs with it.

    "We've found a cache of million year old storage disks. They look readable."

    "Brilliant what do they say."

    "No idea. Just a lot of 0's and 1's"

  11. Captain DaFt

    And then along comes a guy with a hammer and a belief.

    Of course, no matter how good your long term data storage is, it's always prone to the same problem, changing mores.*

    Just look a all the medical and engineering data from ancient Egypt, or the astronomical data from the Maya and the Hindi... Oh wait, you can't. Somebody decided that that data was 'improper', and set on it with torch and mallet.**

    If you want info to remain longer than it takes for someone to come along and trash it, you're gonna need a lot of copies, stored in secure locations.

    Orbital and Lunar repositories, anyone?

    *mo·res noun plural \ˈmȯr-ˌāz also -(ˌ)ēz\ : the customs, values, and behaviors that are accepted by a particular group, culture, etc.

    ** Just a couple of examples. There are many, many more.

  12. Tromos

    And the write speed is...?

    Not a great deal of use if it can only be written at half a kilobyte per week. Storage density isn't mentioned either and nobody is going to take any storage medium seriously these days unless it can pack terabytes into a reasonably small space.

  13. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Will come in handy

    > Cat videos will outlast humanity

    when cats evolve an opposable thumb, turn into Kzinti and take over the world.

    Will they waste their civilisations away watching endless videos of humans?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Will come in handy

      Kzinti? I doubt it. More likely, cats will evolve into something like "The Cat" from Red Dwarf. But that's only based on my observation of our feral population ...

      Cat videos? Useless.

      Humanity? Possibly one step below that for creating 'em in the first place.

  14. Rol

    I once conceived a sci-fi story base upon the origins of life on Earth.

    Basically, our DNA had been predetermined by an ancient alien race and coded within it was a message to the future.

    1. MrXavia

      Ahhh I remember TNG had that in an episode, and IIRC there was a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits with a similar Theme

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    IT Angle

    On the practical side

    Tungsten is is very dense. SG of about 19 to water.

    It's also brittle, with a mp of about 3000c. And it vaporizes in air at moderately high temperature.

    The materials problems of this concept are not straight forward.

    that said keep in mind that CD's were made by physical pits in the disk, so pretty high density is possible. If more subtle effects are available (IIRC it's not magnetic but their are other options) then that could go higher.

  16. Pete the not so great

    start encoding those

    Dr Who episodes

  17. phil dude

    i just thought of...

    the library and Dr Moon.....


  18. Charles 9 Silver badge

    Low Thermal Expansion Coefficient

    For the record, the Thermal Expansion Coefficient is the rate at which a substance expands when it's exposed to heat. Like how a ring might expand when doused in hot water and contract again when doused in cold water.

    In terms of material longevity, this means a material with a low TEC (like Tungsten and Silicon Nitride) is unlikely to distort when exposed to heat: A Good Thing.

    I wonder if anyone here recalls that tungsten's high melting point was one reason it was was the metal of choice in incandescent light bulbs.

  19. Dick Emery

    TNG it

    Put all thee worlds knowledge into a capsule. Shoot it into space and when sentient life approaches blast it into their brain. Picard stylee!

  20. sisk

    It's neat an all, but I'm struck by one thing about this idea: exactly what kind of machine do they have that can create peaks and pits with the required precision on tungsten? I'm guessing this isn't something that's going to fit into the 5 1/4" bay in your case, nor would I expect it to be very high density by today's standards.

  21. Steven Roper

    The one problem I see

    is one of retrieval rather than storage.

    If they build a storage medium that will last a million years they also need to build a writer/reader that will last a million years. Otherwise, like reel-to-reel tapes, 8" floppies, and Betamax cassettes, the information might still be there but a functioning device to read it non-existent, since companies see fit to change the media standards every couple of decades or so and planned obsolescence takes care of the rest.

    Fat lot of good an archive of these things would be even in 50 years' time, let alone a million, when nobody makes the readers any more...

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