I first wrote about the Voyager spacecraft a few years back. Voyager 1, a probe launched from earth in 1977 was on the verge of entering interstellar space, that fabulous void that fills most of the known universe. Voyager finally achieved this about five years ago, being the first man-made object to do so, an event so epic in the history of humanity that it should have been recognised by the entire planet, celebrated as the pinnacle of man’s achievement, an event to surpass the invention of the wheel. But it wasn’t, well for those of us who recognise true achievement it was and always will be, but the for majority of the human race was not an event worthy of looking up from their mobile phones, certainly not as interesting as the latest episode of Love Island. Am I surprised, no. Disappointed, yes, but only because the event surely deserved more recognition.
Let’s look at it in a bit more detail. Interstellar space what the hell is that? It sounds like the title of a Sci Fi Movie.
It actually is all the space that sits between solar systems. A solar system being a sun, you know those burning lights in the night sky which you may know as stars. Well these are all suns, some like our own, some a few thousand times bigger. Around most of these stars there is a planet, or more likely, planets. The sun and their planets are called a solar system. Interstellar space is reached when the sun no longer has any gravitational affect on the space around you, which is technically the boundary of the solar system. In the case of our sun, this is about 13 billion miles out from the sun.
So as you can see, Voyager has travelled an awful long way in the 40 years since it was launched. No small achievement and is the first man made object to achieve this. I call that pretty bloody epic really. I’m sure all of you who know this stuff already would agree.
But, Voyager only has a limited battery, and after 40 years this is getting near the end of its lifetime. Even considering that, Nasa have recently managed to get thrusters on Voyager to burn, if only briefly, to realign the antenna with Earth so it can continue to send information to us for the remainder of its lifetime. Our first data on interstellar space. That’s just, well awesome really.
What’s interesting is that the thrusters had not been used in 37 years. Of course things don’t rust in space, you need oxygen to cause rust, but all the same that’s pretty remarkable, as has been every moment of Voyagers life really.
But the end is near now, and soon Voyager will not have enough power to broadcast. That is not the end though. Voyager is equipped with data about humanity and Plant Earth, recordings carved into a gold record, pictures, basic data to give anyone that finds Voyager an idea of mankind and our home, should anyone, or anything ever find Voyager. But I am not here to speculate on life on other planets, but rather to say my farewells to an outstanding piece of scientific history that has been in operation most of my life and still continues to explore further than man has ever gone before. Voyager will become silent, but in space, the momentum it has will carry it for ever, and it will drift through Interstellar space for eternity perhaps. It’s next flyby of another solar system is anticipated in about 40,000 years, by which time we will either have already reached for the stars ourselves, or have died out as a civilisation. What ever we will likely be unrecognisable from the immature species we are now. In all truth Voyager will more than likely outlive us all, before potentially diving into some distant star a few million years from now.
Or maybe it will be discover by some technologically advanced race who will travel across the cosmos in search of its source to find a burnt out planet Earth with nothing left other than giant golden statues of Donald Trump sticking up out of the wasteland.
Good luck and good travels my friend, your deeds may have passed unnoticed by the majority, but for those who care you will be in our hearts and minds.