Power On Voyager

by Chris McMahon.

There was quite a bit of celebration this week as Voyager 1 celebrated 35 years sweeping through our solar system. The hard-working little beast – despite its 1970s technology – is still powering on out there. Still propelled by its last gravity slingshot and cruising on 350 Watts from its Plutonium batteries. It’s a Hell of an achievement, and I have nothing but respect for those NASA and JPL engineers of that bygone era, their attention to detail, dedication and technical know-how.

There was a lot of press over the last week or so with the headlines ‘Voyager Leaves the Solar System’. The fact is no one will really be able to tell – except in retrospect – when our silicon-and-alloy ambassador will really cross the Heliopause – the boundary of the Heliosheath where the sun’s influence stops and the cosmic wind takes over.

What they do know is that the cosmic rays being detected by Voyager have increased quite dramatically in comparison to its prior journey from the inner Solar System. This is a good indication its nearing the Heliopause. It’s only by analysing the data over a long period (and let’s hope old Voyager keeps ticking through the whole process) that the precise ‘boundary’ will be declared.

Amazing achievement though – Voyager is 18 billion kilometres (11 billion mi) from the Sun. All the while carrying that gold disk with the ‘Sounds of Earth’ . God knows what any alien race will make of that – ‘Hey man, break out the record player. These cats don’t use vinyl.’

I can’t help but imagine the historical tours of the outer Solar System in a century where you speed out from Earth to Oort Cloud in a fast cruiser, snap out of suspension to watch in amazement as the ancient Voyager 1 limps along through the cosmic wind. Or the celebration in around 50,000 years when the little beast finally reaches a star poetically named AC+79 3888.

Anyone want to make advance bookings?

Cross-posted at chrismcmahons.

5 comments

  1. I recently read Carter’s message. I suppose we forget, even those of us who remember, what it was like during the Cold War and people worried about mutually assured destruction. I think his message was meant to be hopeful, but the hope implied existential threat. What it *felt* like was… if you get this and we’re still alive… (Oh dear… there’s a song and now it’s in my head… I. Will. Not. Share. AARRRGHHH.) Okay, deep breaths. What it felt like was, whoever this culture was, that it was hanging on by a thread, but it hoped they’d make it to the future, but in all likelihood, this record was all that was left.

  2. Memory measured in kilobytes, an eight track tape . . . incredible achievement. Humbling, what can be achieved with shear determination and complete obliviousness to how primitive we were . . . and still will have been today, when my (potential, future) grandkids take over the reins, and look back at what we’ve achieved.

  3. It would take us longer, today, to get to the moon than it took them in 1961 on 1961 technology and the computing power normally present in a 2012 hand held calculator.

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