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Voyager 1 voyage goes interstellar

A space craft launched by NASA 41 years ago has become the first object manufactured by humans to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space.

The Voyager project consisted of a pair of probes that would pass by the gas giants and their moons in order to send back important scientific data and imagery that would prove invaluable to our knowledge and understanding of our own planetary system.

Launched in 1977,  Voyager reached Jupiter in early 1979 and discovered the planet had a ring system like Saturn and that it’s moon Io had volcanic activity. It also sent back information which led scientists to work out that Jupiter’s famours ‘red spot’ is actually a storm several times the size of Earth.

Voyager 1 also passed Saturn in late 1980 sending back further detailed imagery and data of both Saturn and it’s moons. A decision by the ground control teams meant that the probe performed a close fly by of the moon Titan and so ended Voyager 1’s tour of the outer planets.

It’s trajectory was now 32 degrees from the orbital plane of the solar system and it began the long journey into deep space carrying the famous golden plates describing Earth’s location and the humans who built the spacecraft.

Although the 20W radio transmitter used to receive information gathered by Voyager’s instruments will run out of power in about 10 years, the craft should continue its epic journey for a long time to come. Moving at its current speed of 100,000mph it will approach the nearest star in about… 40,000 years.

The combined cost of both of the Voyager probes is around $1 billion, including launch and operation until today. Compared to roughly $1,500 billion that is spent on the arms industry every year this is a drop in
the ocean and yet one that has inspired so many young people who dream of what lies out there amongst the stars. For this price we could launch 1,500 such 40 year, two probe missions every year! Think of how much information we could gather on our universe from an investment that large.

As Voyager 1 makes it’s 40,000 year journey to another star we have to ask ourselves, if an alien species were to find this craft and follow it’s directions back to Earth, what kind of world would we want them to find here?

By Sam Copley

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This entry was posted on September 16, 2013 by in Science and tagged , , , , , , .


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