Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Voyager 1 Spacecraft Headed for the Edge of our Solar System

In this very moment, 10.8 billion miles from the sun, nuclear-powered Voyager 1 is hurtling towards the edge of our solar system at a rapid 38,000mph. In 1998 Voyager 1 bypassed Pioneer 10 and claimed the honor of being the farthest reaching human-made object in space. This mighty journey that launched in 1977 has brought to the scientific community an incredible amount of excitement and accomplishment for the past 33 years. The constant trickle of information that this unmanned probe reveals to us about our vast, incredibly unknown universe (or, at least for now, our galaxy), is invaluable to our exploration of space and helps us begin to understand it and the wonders it hides. Voyager 1 has been exploring a particular region of space where the solar winds (a 1 million mile per hour stream of charged particles gushing from the sun) eventually slows and converges with thin gasses between stars. As the outward speed of the solar winds drops to zero, scientists are finally seeing the indication they were expecting, telling them that the probe is approaching the edge of the solar system. This area is known as the heliopause. Though it will take an additional four years from now for Voyager 1 to exit our solar system, the wealth of information that we will receive once it reaches interstellar space (as well as the information obtained along the way) will continue to inspire and help the scientific community. Space exploration is coming to an extremely exciting age and is just now able to reach places we could only dream of in earlier decades.

If the thought of interstellar space exploration isn’t enough for you, here’s another bit of fun information that makes the Voyager 1 even more of a catch. Carl Sagan, a well known and loved physicist, along with his associates at Cornell University, assembled a spectacular greeting for intelligent extraterrestrial life (or future humans) should they be encountered. This 12-inch, gold plated phonograph record made for NASA contains a compilation of what Dr. Sagan believed to be a fine representation of the wide diversity found in human civilization. The disk contains a total of 155 images and sounds that are in an assortment of languages and covers many different eras. This compilation encompasses human culture in a nutshell so wonderfully that it would be a shame for intelligent life not to find it. Until extraterrestrial contact is made, however, we’ll just have to be content with the continuing excitement that the Voyager 1’s journey brings those wgi are entrapped by the many mysteries of space.

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