The space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 began their long journey in 1977. In addition to NASA’s expectations, scouts are still operating, but many instruments are slowly being shut down. This means that the devices will last for a few more years, after which the connection with the Earth breaks and you float silently through infinite space.
It should really only last five years after launch, but Voyager 1 and 2 continue to deliver new results. “We’re now another 44.5 years,” Ralph McNutt said recently. Scientific American† McNutt worked in the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory during most of his career on Voyagers. “We’ve hit ten times the target age for that stuff.”
Voyager 1 is now about 22.5 billion kilometers from Earth. Voyager 2 has more than 12 billion miles. No man-made devices have been to space more than these sensors. Voyager 2 took off first, on August 20, 1977, and Voyager 1 followed two weeks later. The sensors are identical to each other.
Scouts were supposed to take measurements of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In 1977, the planets were in just the right position so that they could all be visited. This happens once every 176 years.
New pictures and information about neighboring planets
The missions were successful. Among other things, new close-up photos of the planets were taken. The two probes also detected lightning on Jupiter for the first time, proving that it could also strike other planets. In addition, measurements of the planet’s atmosphere and geography were taken. New images of Saturn’s rings have been made.
Voyager 1 continued its journey into the solar system without seeing any other planets, but Voyager 2 passed close to Uranus and discovered that the planet has not nine but at least 11 rings. Twelve years after its launch, in 1989, Voyager 2 reached Neptune. After the probe imaged the planet, its cameras were turned off to conserve power for other instruments.
Voyager 1 took 60 more pictures of the solar system in 1990. The explorer was then at a distance of 6.4 billion kilometers from Earth. The Earth was also visible in those images, as a small dot. The image has since become known as the “faint blue dot” and no photograph has yet been taken at a greater distance.
The point on the right is the Earth. Source: Environmental Protection Agency.
Sensors are now floating through interstellar space
Both probes are now far from our solar system. Voyager 1 left our solar system in August 2012, and Voyager 2 did the same in November 2018, more than 40 years after its launch. Scouts are now floating more and more through interstellar space. Infinite interstellar space.
Scouts are still taking measurements. Voyager 1 made headlines last year when it launched a Mysterious monotonous hum pick up. Scientists think that the sound probably comes from small amounts of gas in the space between different galaxies.
By recording the buzz, scientists hope they can determine certain characteristics of the environment outside the solar system, such as the density of space. This could help astronomers better understand interstellar space. The information may also provide insight into the boundary between interstellar space and the solar system’s boundary, known as the heliosphere.
Chuck Berry on board a gold record
Sensors require very little power to operate. But for the past three years, NASA has been shutting down heating elements and other nonessential components to extend the remaining power supplies as long as possible. Voyager 1 and 2 are expected to lose contact with Earth sometime between 2025 and 2030.
They will then continue to float through the infinite universe. Both probes hold a gold gramophone cylinder with information about the Earth. It contains 115 images and greetings in 55 languages and earthly sounds, such as the sound of wind, rain and human heartbeat. There is also an hour and a half of music, including Beethoven, Bach, and Chuck Berry.
Voyager 1 will reach its next star, Proxima Centauri, in about 16,700 years Scientific American† Voyager 2 passed there after 3,600 years.
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