HAPPY NEW YEAR – VOYAGER SPACECRAFTS KEEP REACHING THE STARS
In the late summer of 1977, NASA launched the twin Voyager spacecraft. These remote ambassadors still beam messages back to Earth more than 40 years later, with data from their deep space travels. According to the NASA, Voyager 1 is about 13 billion miles from Earth in interstellar space and Voyager 2 is not far behind.
Voyager 1 reached interstellar space in August 2012 and is the most distant human-made object in existence. The probe is currently sailing through the Ophiucus constellation at a speed of 38,026 miles per hour.
In November 2018, Voyager 2 became the second spacecraft in history to leave the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by our Sun. At a distance of about 11 billion miles (18 billion km) from Earth, well beyond the orbit of Pluto, Voyager 2 had entered interstellar space, or the region between stars. The spacecraft is cruising in the Pavo constellation.
The primary mission of the two probes was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain. And beyond.
Voyager 1 and 2, powered by steadily decaying plutonium, are projected to drop below critical energy levels in the mid-2020s. But they will continue on their trajectories long after they fall silent. Bill Kurth, a University of Iowa research scientist said “The two Voyagers will outlast Earth. They’re in their own orbits around the galaxy for 5 billion years or longer. And the probability of them running into anything is almost zero.”
The only functional probe that has any hope of reaching the heliopause is New Horizons, launched in January 2006, which is currently flying through the Kuiper Belt. It could leave the solar system around 2040.
(Source: NASA/ExtremeTech/Heavens Above/The Sky – Image: Heavens Above)
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