Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | September 14, 2013

Onward Voyager

NASA confirmed on September 12 that the unmanned spacecraft Voyager 1, launched in September 1977, has left our solar system and entered interstellar space, the first man-made object to do so.

Voyager 1 is currently a little over 125 AU from the Sun (about 11.6 billion miles), speeding away from the solar system at 17 km/second (roughly 11 miles per second). It takes over 17 hours for a radio signal leaving the probe to reach Earth (or for a signal from Earth to reach the probe).

The probe stopped sending pictures in 1990 (after sending the famous “family portrait of the solar system”), but the spacecraft is still broadcasting data to Earth every day and receiving instructions from Ground Control. The camera and a few other instruments on Voyager 1 have been shut down to conserve power, but some instruments are still collecting and sending telemetry data and data on cosmic rays.

Outersolarsystem-probes-4407b

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were both launched in 1977. Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn; Voyager 2, taking advantage of a particular alignment of the planets, visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, Voyager 1 is traveling away from the Sun at a faster velocity than Voyager 2 (about 17 km/sec vs. 15 km/sec). In 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 in distance from the Sun. (Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, respectively, but were launched with less powerful rockets and therefore are traveling at a slower velocity than the Voyager probes.)

Even traveling over 38,000 mph, it will still take Voyager 1 about 40,000 years before it comes close to another star. Such is the vastness of space.

And I was not the only one who thought of this comic when hearing the news this week:

“So far Voyager 1 has ‘left the Solar System’ by passing through the termination shock three times, the heliopause twice, and once each through the heliosheath, heliosphere, heliodrome, auroral discontinuity, Heaviside layer, trans-Neptunian panic zone, magnetogap, US Census Bureau Solar System statistical boundary, Kuiper gauntlet, Oort void, and crystal sphere holding the fixed stars.”

(See also this piece on why we can’t retrieve the Voyager probe.)

Godspeed, Voyager.

Image Credits: (1) Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech, used via their Image Use Policy;
(2) image by “7Train,” via Wikimedia Commons, and used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license; (3) xkcd.com.

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Responses

  1. Hello, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring… I miss your super writings. Past few posts are just a bit out of track! come on!


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