There is a lot going on in the world right now. A lot happening that is shaping the face of modern politics, changing science, and affecting the lives of human race on a daily basis.
This is not what I want to talk about today. No, what I interested in is what is happening on the outskirts of our own Solar System, with what I believe is the biggest scientific and technological achievement in man’s entire history. I refer to the two Voyager spacecraft that currently sit in an area of space never before explored by any man-made object, on the very edge of interstellar space.
These two little sibling spacecraft were launched out into the universe back in 1977 with the original mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn, planets know well by most of us nowadays, but then virtually unknown entities. This they managed with great success, returning photos and data of their targets and some of the moons and rings that surround them.
After this success, their mission was extended to explore further into the solar system and beyond. The things these two spacecraft have seen have been phenomenal, Voyager 2 for example has still been the only man-made spacecraft to explore Neptune and Uranus, only recently surpassed by New Horizons fly by of Pluto. But that takes nothing away from the Voyagers own success.
They both currently sit in an area of space know as the Heliosheath where even the sun’s solar winds are slowed by the effects of interstellar space outside. Voyager 1 at 11 billion kilometres from Earth is thought to be nearing that final point where the Suns solar winds no longer have any effect on space. How we know this is that both of the Voyagers, after nearly 35 years in space, are still sending data back to Earth. Voyager 1 now shows us that the speed of the solar particles has slowed to zero. It is now believed that this intrepid little explorer has finally punched its way outside the relative security of our solar system into the unknown void between the stars.
These spacecraft will continue to send data back to the Earth for another 10 years maybe, and then their power will run out, their fuel will dry up. Voyager 1, travelling at 275 million miles per year, 1000 times the distance from the Earth to the moon, will still take 40,000 years or so to reach the nearest star it is destined to pass. Voyager 2 will take much longer on it’s own forsaken path until it encounters the soothing warmth of some distant star. Their story does not stop there, in the vacuum of space there is no resistence. After their batteries die they will both just glide on past these still distant points of light, drifting as eternal silent objects in space for eternity, carrying a golden welcome from Earth in the hope one day they will find other life in the infinite skies.
For all of their achievements I feel some sentimental loss that they will travel so far alone, a lifetime that might even out last the species that built them, but perhaps one day they will find a home with some alien species, who will treat them with the reverence they deserve.
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