First Man-Made Object Leaves the Solar System…35 Years after Launch

Saturday, September 14, 2013
Voyager 1 (photo: NASA)

Its technology predates everything from PCs to iPhones, and its memory capacity is almost laughable by today’s standards, but the Voyager 1 spacecraft is still going and accomplishing amazing feats—including becoming the first man-made object to leave the solar system.


Technically, Voyager 1 exited the bounds of this planetary system more than a year ago. But scientists took their time examining the information sent back from the spacecraft before deciding that it had, indeed, come in contact with the plasma of interstellar space. They marked the date when it had left-the-building as August 25, 2012.


Scientists are amazed by what Voyager 1 has done, having traveled 11.7 billion miles so far since launching in 1977.


“I don’t know if it’s in the same league as landing on the moon, but it’s right up there — ‘Star Trek’ stuff, for sure,” Donald A. Gurnett, a physics professor at the University of Iowa and the co-author of a paper published in the journal Science about Voyager’s mission, told The New York Times. “I mean, consider the distance. It’s hard even for scientists to comprehend.”


Another fact hard to comprehend is that it is still working and sending back data (which takes about 17 hours to reach earth). Consider this: It stores readings about cosmic rays, ionized gas and magnetic fields on an 8-track tape recorder, and its computers can process only about 8,000 instructions per second. In comparison, a typical smartphone can manage 14 billion instructions a second.


Voyager 1 was sent off 36 years ago to visit and take photos of Saturn. But it just kept going after that, traveling past the remaining planets in the solar system.


Scientists at the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) say the little-craft-that-could has plenty of life left in it. They expect to continue receiving transmissions for another 12 years, as long as its 23-watt transmitter (think refrigerator light bulb in terms of power) keeps functioning.


Its next stop is a long way away, in terms of reaching another planetary system. That would be the dwarf star AC+793888 in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Even at its current speed of 38,000 miles an hour, Voyager 1 will take 40,000 years to reach it.


If it ever comes in contact with intelligent life, the spacecraft contains a disc known as “The Golden Record” filled with images from earth and spoken greetings in various languages as well as an “eclectic” mix of music.


NASA included printed instructions to help extraterrestrials figure out how to play the gold-plated phonograph record.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

In a Breathtaking First, NASA’s Voyager 1 Exits the Solar System (by Brooks Barnes, New York Times)

At last, Voyager 1 Slips into Interstellar Space (by Andrew Grant, Science News)

NASA: Voyager 1 Probe Has Left the Solar System (by Alicia Chang, Associated Press)

Voyager 1 Just Left the Solar System Using Less Computing Power Than Your iPhone (by Caitlin Dewey, Washington Post)

Voyager: The Interstellar Mission (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)


Babu G. Ranganathan 7 years ago
SCIENCE SHOWS THAT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE ETERNAL because it could not have sustained itself eternally due to the law of entropy (increasing energy decay, even in an open system). Einstein showed that space, matter, and time all are physical and all had a beginning. Space even produces particles because it’s actually something, not nothing. Even time had a beginning! Time is not eternal. Popular atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking admits that the universe came from nothing but he believes that nothing became something by a natural process yet to be discovered. That's not rational thinking at all, and it also would be making the effect greater than its cause to say that nothing created something. The beginning had to be of supernatural origin because natural laws and processes do not have the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. What about the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”)? The Higgs boson does not create mass from nothing, but rather it converts energy into mass. Einstein showed that all matter is some form of energy. The supernatural cannot be proved by science but science points to a supernatural intelligence and power for the origin and order of the universe. Where did God come from? Obviously, unlike the universe, God’s nature doesn’t require a beginning. EXPLAINING HOW AN AIRPLANE WORKS doesn't mean no one made the airplane. Explaining how life or the universe works doesn't mean there was no Maker behind them. Natural laws may explain how the order in the universe works and operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot explain the origin of that order. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM. WHAT IS SCIENCE? Science simply is knowledge based on observation. No one observed the universe coming by chance or by design, by creation or by evolution. These are positions of faith. The issue is which faith the scientific evidence best supports. Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION Babu G. Ranganathan* (B.A. Bible/Biology) Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.
Bob 7 years ago
Space size is simply inconceivable. At 38,000 mph, Voyager is still less than 1 light-DAY from earth. It takes Voyager 5 hours to go just 1 light-SECOND.
Marvin Bullock 7 years ago
Next time US industry says that they CAN NOT make a battery that lasts forever, ask them who has been changing the batteries in Voyager?

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