Monday, September 24, 2012

Voyager 1 is leaving home

Voyager Space Probes

The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts were launched separately by NASA in 1977 to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space.  They both lifted off onTitan IIIE-Centaur rockets.

Voyager 1 travelled past both Jupiter and Saturn on its way out of our solar system.

Here are a couple of close up photos taken by Voyager 1 of Jupiter as well as two shots taken of Saturn.

The probe weighs 1,592 pounds (722 kg).  Since launch, Voyager 1 has been operating for 35 years and 19 days.  The spacecraft receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network. At a distance of about 11 billion miles from the sun (122 AU or 1.83×1010 km) as of September 2012, it is the furthest manmade object from Earth. Voyager 1 is now in the heliosheath, which is the outermost layer of the heliosphere, which marks the edge of our solar system.  On June 15th, NASA scientists reported that Voyager 1 may be very close to entering interstellar space and becoming the first manmade object to leave the Solar System. 

Two of three key signs of changes expected to occur at the boundary of interstellar space have changed faster than at any other time in the last seven years, according to new data from NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft.  The picture below shows the sun in the center of the circle and the position of both spacecraft to the left.

For the last seven years, Voyager 1 has been exploring the outer layer of the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself.  In one day, on July 28, data from Voyager 1's cosmic ray instrument showed the level of high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our solar system jumped by five percent. During the last half of that same day, the level of lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system dropped by half. A third key sign is the direction of the magnetic field, and scientists are eagerly analyzing the data to see whether that has, indeed, changed direction. Scientists expect that all three of these signs will have changed when Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space. A preliminary analysis of the latest magnetic field data is expected to be available in the next month.

Twin Voyager 2 trails behind at 9 billion miles from the sun. Voyager 1's current relative velocity to the Sun is 17,043 m/s (61,350 km/h; 38,120 mph). This calculates as 3.592 AU per year, about 10% faster than Voyager 2. At this velocity, 73,775 years would pass before reaching the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, were the spacecraft traveling in the direction of that star. Voyager 1 will need about 17,565 years at its current velocity to travel a complete light year

Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that either spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life-forms from other planetary systems. The discs carry photos of the earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from people (e.g. the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States) and a medley, "Sounds of Earth", that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a collection of Earth music, including works by Mozart and Chuck Berry's Johnny Be Goode. 

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