Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Greatest Journey in History

The Voyager 1 space probe is in the news this week as we come upon the thirtieth anniversary of its departure from Earth. Among the coverage is a, um… touching… piece at the New York Times by op-ed contributor Timothy Ferris, “Mix Tape of the Gods.” Yes, I called an article about a space probe touching.

Ferris spells out in plain, but sweeping English how truly amazing Voyager 1’s journey has been. Surviving “cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands,” Voyager 1 returned “reams of scientific data,” to the delight of scientists around the world. And for us lay folk, Voyager delivered shiny pictures of Saturn’s rings, the “shimmering blue ice” of Europa, and volcanoes erupting on Io.

Now, Voyager 1 is 10 billion miles away, but “faithfully calling home” on a regular basis. The spacecraft is so far away, it takes 14 hours for radio signals (which travel at the speed of light) to reach earth. Voyager 1 is so far away, “the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion.”

Get this. Right now, Voyager 1 is about to break free of the heliosphere. This borders of this region mark the edge of the Sun’s influence. Yes, something made by the hands of human beings will soon be outside the reach of the sun’s power (not all that soon, Voyager 1 leaves the heliosphere in 2015). Something made by the hands of human kind will finally reach interstellar space, “where it is destined to wander among the stars forever,” wrote Ferris. I get chills just thinking about it. But, I wonder if most people on Earth really care. There probably won’t be any celebrations when Voyager leaves the heliosphere. I mean, what does it have to do with the stock market, right?

Anyway, the path ahead. Hurtling through space at 38,000 miles per hour, it will be 40,000 years before Voyager 1 approaches another star. Around that time, the probe will come within 1.7 light years of “AC+79 3888.” I hope by then we have a better name for that thing.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.