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A star among the stars: Voyager I leaves the solar system

Discussion in 'Sports and News' started by Batman, Sep 12, 2013.

  1. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Where does this rank on the list of human achievements? The Voyager I space probe has finally made it out of the solar system and into interstellar space.


    Voyager 2, of course, was the one that went to the outer planets, but both of these things amazed me as a kid in the 1980s. Seeing the images they sent back from Uranus and Neptune, knowing that it was the first time anything had ever been there -- and might ever be there -- filled me with a sense of wonder. I consumed books about these things.
    Now, 36 years after launch, they're still zipping away from us and still sending back data and making discoveries about things humans might never get a chance to learn about again. All with early 1970s technology that was a bit defective.
    The next closest thing we have in the hopper right now is the New Horizons mission to Pluto (less than two years from its flyby), which we can only hope teaches a tenth of what these wonderful machines have taught us about space.
  2. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    I'm nearly in your camp. It puts me in awe, but I know little about it, but love to read about it when I stumble into it.
    So, how much faster are space probes now? I would assume the technology would help in speeding things up.
  3. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    I'll defer to Old Ben Kenobi on this one:

    You've taken your first step into a larger world.
  4. doctorquant

    doctorquant Well-Known Member

    Voyager's computer has only 68 kilobytes of memory ... I probably have close to that much memory tied up in text messages on my smartphone.
  5. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    We really don't have any more powerful rockets now than we had in 1977, so there's a limit to how much faster we could propel an object out of the solar system (although there has been work on ion propulsion systems which at least in theory could provide a significant velocity boost).

    The main thing with such a mission is you would have to use the gravity assist of both Jupiter and Saturn, and preferably Uranus and Neptune, to pick up additional speed, and the planets only line up in alignments where that is possible once every several decades (actually, every 175 years for all four).

    Eventually of course we will probably develop propulsion systems which will far overtake the Voyagers and Pioneers.
  6. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    The New Horizons probe is the fastest thing we've ever built (a little over 36,000 mph with a gravity assist from Jupiter) and it'll still take nine years to reach Pluto. So figure a decade or more to the fringes of the solar system with current technology. Most deep space travel seems to require a gravity assist of some sort, either to speed things up or just to make it possible.
  7. Shoeless Joe

    Shoeless Joe Active Member

    I remember when Pioneer left the solar system, and you call call in and listen. That was big stuff in the early 80s. It was 50 cents or 99 cents or something a minute to hear a bunch of beeps and chirps (R2-D2). If there ever was a case for "Be quiet! I'm calling long distance!" then I don't know what was.
  8. I loved the little blurb on the 77-year-old programmer who modified Voyager's data collection system. Programming was more of a craft back then with limited memory.
  9. Colton

    Colton Active Member

    These have always fascinated me, though as mentioned above, it's more than a bit over my head, so to speak.

    And, was it the original Star Trek: The Movie that used Voyager I as the crux of its plot?
  10. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Yeah. Conveniently ignoring the fact it will take Voyager several dozen thousand years, not 300, to travel to other star systems.

    The overwhelmingly-most likely scenarios for the Voyagers:

    1) Will travel on forever and never be intercepted by anyone;

    2) At some point will be tracked down and retrieved by humans from Earth (or their machine surrogates) using massively-improved means of propulsion;

    3) Will be damaged/destroyed by some kind of debris collision. Interstellar space is very very empty but dozens of thousands of years is a real long time, and all it would take would be a collision with something the size of a BB to annihilate them.

    4) At some point eventually retrieved by an extraterrestrial intelligence. Aside from the preliminary limiting factors (do these aliens even exist, are the probes heading in the right direction to be intercepted, etc etc.), the passing of time is the biggest problem -- over thousands of years the spacecraft will completely die, even the radioisotopic generators will decay and go cold, so eventually they will become simply 8-foot hunks of metal junk flying through space with no particular reason for anybody to look at them unless they were specifically looking for something. For the next century or so it's conceivable somebody could detect the thermal generators radiating heat and have some reason to look at it, but further into the future even that would be unlikely.

    And if anybody with those detection capabilities were to intercept it in the next couple of centuries, they are probably also going to detect the planet Earth a few light-days away spewing out scads of electromagnetic radio-TV waves and come see what the hell we are up to, so probably what they think/do about Voyager is not likely to be high on our worry list.
  11. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    I'm really surprised, as long as they've been out there and as fast as they're traveling, that this hasn't happened yet.
  12. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    I hope it hits a black hole and it pops up on the other side of our solar system and crashes back to Earth in 2044. Just to fuck with our minds.
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