Voyager 1 is, like, far out.

Voyager 1 Schematic
schematic: NASA
Voyager 1 is leaving the solar system. That’s 11 billion miles from Earth!


NASA announced that Voyager 1, which weighs about 1500 pounds and was launched in 1977, is apparently at the edge of the solar system and is now entering interstellar space. It’s not likely to collide with any stars: the nearest star is about 4.5 light-years away, and at Voyager’s current velocity (about a million miles a day), it would require 40,000 years to travel that far. (Outer space is huge beyond my imagination.) In any case, it’s not headed in that direction.

It’s impossible to learn about Voyager 1 and its sister, Voyager 2, without being amazed. It was originally projected to have a lifetime of perhaps 12 years. It’s been almost 35 years since its launch, and it’s still transmitting data back to Earth, 24×7. Its transmitter output power is a puny 20 Watts!

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, for about 8 hours every day, the huge 70 meter diameter dishes of the Deep Space Network (DSN) listen to the incoming data from Voyager 1 at the slow speed of 160 bps (bits per second). (The old Telex system operated at 110 bps and the first modem that I had operated at 300 bps, c 1978.) These bits now require about 14 hours to travel the 11 billion miles from Voyager 1 to Earth.

Very rarely, commands are transmitted from Earth to Voyager 1.

If any of this captures your interest, you’ll find much more detail in Wikipedia:

Everyone who was or is associated with this project should be proud of this amazing achievement. And just in case either Voyager is ever found in a scrapheap in Alpha Centauri, it can serve as a jukebox to play, among other selections, music by Chuck Berry and Mozart. (What, no Bach?!)


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