Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Voyager I: First Human Made Object to Escape the Solar System?

Since its first flight in September 5, 1977 as a way to fully explore the outer planets of our Solar System, is Voyager I now the first human made object to completely escape our Solar System? 

By: Ringo Bones 

If the Heliopause marks the outermost boundary of our Solar System, then the Voyager I spacecraft, which was launched almost 40 years ago as a way to explore the outer planets of our Solar System is now indeed the first human made object to have completely escaped our Solar System. According to NASA scientists and via peer review of scientists elsewhere across the world – instrument data recently collected by Voyager I had indeed confirmed that it has indeed completely left our Solar System. Ed Stone – the chief scientist and part of the original team that comprised the Voyager program was quite overwhelmed when he got the notice that Voyager I has indeed passed beyond the Heliopause. Despite coasting along after the gravity assists provided by the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn at a “mere” 20 kilometers per second into the depths of interstellar space, Voyager I will reach our nearest stellar neighbor – Proxima Centauri – in 40,000 years time. Although Voyager I’s plutonium 239 fueled thermoelectric generator could still be guaranteed to work by the year 2040 or 2050. Voyager I -for all intents and purposes – is now indeed going on an interstellar voyage.  

Launched to take advantage of the rare planetary alignment that only happens once every 175 years, the two Voyager spacecraft –Voyagers I and II – was originally sent to take close up photos of the outer planets – i.e. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – and collect other useful data. Even though the two spacecraft’s imaging system is comparable in technology used in the early 1990s era Video CD systems that rely on Reed-Solomon coding, it was considered state of the art back in 1977. After sending back stunning pictures of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons and then off to Uranus and Neptune and their moons during the past couple of decades or so, Voyager I also carried with it a gold plated LP containing sound of the earth and excerpts of Classical and Rock N’ Roll music plus that now famous golden plaque showing the location of our Solar System and our home planet with reference to nearby stars and the nude human male and female figure said to be readable for millions of years while travelling in the cold vacuum of space. 

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