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April 16, 2012

Voyager - Exploring our Neighborhood in the Universe

Space exploration is something that can truly capture the imagination. Whether it's visualizing aliens visiting us or living on other worlds, or just how many planets may be orbiting the numerous stars that are scattered across the night sky, it really brings a sense of wonder.

Yesterday's post about the space shuttle inspired me to look a bit further into our space endeavours, and it reminded me of something else that started in the 1970s. Something that, believe it or not, is still going on.

That would be the Voyager 1 & 2 space probes that are currently wandering just outside our solar system, beyond the orbit of Pluto.

(Thanks to SpaceToday)

What a captivating thought. Something that we created and launched in the Summer of 1977 is still out there, having left our solar system and now currently in the Heliosphere (where the solar wind is slowed down by the pressure of interstellar gas). They will, at some point in the future, break through even this barrier and will enter truly interstellar space.

Believe it or not, we're actually still getting data from both of these probes.
Sure, the images have stopped. The last image received from the Voyagers came to us on February 14, 1990 (many thanks to the Voyager Timeline on the Voyager site for the date). On their trips out of the solar system, they visited most of the planets in the outer orbits of the solar system, returning some truly stunning images of Jupiter and Neptune.

(Storms on Neptune, taken by Voyager 2 - thanks to League of Reason)

Both probes interacted with Saturn as well, sending back remarkable images (the following two shots taken from the Voyager page on Saturn, check that page for other gorgeous shots)

(View of Saturn as Voyager approaches)

(False colour image of Saturn's rings as taken by Voyager)

It's so hard to believe that 1970s space technology is still running today, even so far away from home. The Pioneer 10 and 11 probes, which Voyager 1 passed a few years ago as the furthest man-made object ever, are long-dead. But the Voyager probes keep going on, and may go on for many years yet.

It's too bad that they are beyond the ability to send pictures now, but the wealth of scientific data about the area beyond Pluto is still invaluable. Then again, there may be nothing to see except gas, if it's visible at all. Can you imagine the starscape, though?

The Voyager probes are also pretty famous for what's on them as well as their scientific equipment. Both have a "Golden Record" with greetings, images, and sounds from Earth. They contain 115 images, and numerous nature sounds of Earth, such as rolling surf, wind, birds, etc. The greetings are in 55 languages, from ancient Akkadian to Wu (a modern Chinese dialect). Also included is 90 minutes of music.

While it will be 40,000 years before either probe reaches another star, who knows? Some passing transport ship might happen upon it, and we'll have met our first aliens! It's a true "message in a bottle."

Over the years, the Voyager mission has always intrigued me, but I've lost sight of it and stopped paying attention. Not anymore.

I'm bookmarking the Voyager site, checking back frequently, and going to see if there is an option for subscribing to updates.

Because this is seriously cool.


  1. Wow, you're blogging your little heart out! I overlooked this post, somehow, so I'm getting caught up. I remember when Voyager launched and what another hopeful moment it was for our Space Program. As we've both discussed, it's sad to see that level of patriotism and optimism coming to an end. I'm going to visit the Voyager page link you provided so I can bookmark it as well. I find space exploration as infinitely fascinating as I do archaeology! :)

    - Dawnie

  2. I am trying to keep consistent, so that my little lulls don't turn into months of inactivity. Thank you for the ability to schedule posts, Blogger! LOL I wrote three posts Sunday and scheduled the second and third to come out on Monday and Tuesday. :)

    I was seven when they launched, so I don't quite remember them, but I do know that they've always fascinated me.

    I think you and I are kindred souls, considering how much we both love so many of the same things. :)


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