Over 30 years after they left Earth, NASA’s twin Voyager probes are now on the edge of our solar system, and are still working!
Launched in the late 1970s to take advantage of a rare alignment of outer planets (the “Grand Tour“); Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune (still the only probe to visit Uranus and Neptune).
Between them they have found volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io; evidence for an ocean beneath the icy surface of Europa; hints of methane rain on Saturn’s moon Titan; the crazily-tipped magnetic poles of Uranus and Neptune; icy geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton, and planetary winds that blow faster and faster with increasing distance from the sun.
There is plenty of power left too. Both Voyagers are energized by the radioactive decay of a Plutonium 238 heat source. This should keep critical subsystems running through at least 2020.
After that, “Voyager will become our silent ambassadors to the stars”, says Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Voyager Project Scientist since 1972.
Each probe is famously equipped with a “Golden Record” containing:
- 118 photographs of Earth
- 90 minutes of the world’s greatest music
- An audio essay entitled Sounds of Earth (featuring everything from burbling mud to barking dogs)
- Greetings in 55 human languages and one whale language (Star Trek??)
- The brain waves of a young woman in love
- Salutations from the Secretary General of the United Nations.
A team led by Carl Sagan assembled the record as a message to possible extraterrestrial civilizations that might encounter the spacecraft…
Beware the return of V’GER!
For more details have a read of the full NASA article here
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