I’d recommend you to listen to the playlist while reading!
Space seems glittery and all with beautiful and vast oceans on Earth and spectacular silhouettes with the Sun peeking besides it, but have you ever imagined what it would be like to go out all alone into this abyss?
What would losing control and drifting through emptiness be like? The darkness pulling you in, while your pupils crave for light, the silence numbing your ears, the moments on Earth as memories, about you, your family, your friends and everyone you know cloud your mind, the deep breaths of fear sucking out all the oxygen from your suit and evidently carrying you to a slow, merciless death.
Well, that sure was an unexpected roller coaster ride, wasn’t it?
Outer space is a dark, lonely place.
It starts beyond a boundary near the Earth’s atmosphere called the Karman line.
The Karman line (100 km above sea level) is the boundary that separates the Earth from the outer space.
In the late summer of 1977, two unmanned spacecrafts, Voyager 1 & 2, lifted off from Earth and crossed this boundary to explore the uncharted.
Today, we take a look at their cosmic journeys.
The Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Despite the names, Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after Voyager 2.
Voyager 2 was sent out on a planetary mission to study the outer planets. It is the only spacecraft to have visited both the known ice giants, Uranus and Neptune. Its primary mission ended with the exploration of the Neptunian system on October 2, 1989.
Both the spacecrafts were sent on an interplanetary exploration mission which ended in 1989 with the close flyby of Neptune by Voyager 2. The Voyager 1 completed its close flybys of the Jupiter and Saturn, and Saturn’s large moon, Titan. Whereas Voyager 2, in addition to its own flybys of Jupiter and Saturn, concluded the Voyager mission with the first and the only close flybys of Uranus and Neptune.
Having operated for over 39 years and 7 months, both the spacecrafts are still in contact and continue to communicate with the Deep Space Network. They are still receiving commands and return data to us from a distance of 138 AU (2.06 x 10^10 km).
Voyager 1 is not only the farthest spacecraft from Earth but in reality, also the farthest man-made object.
Voyager 1 photographed Jupiter with almost 19,000 pictures in the early April of 1979 and Voyager 2 continued the tradition, both contributing up to a stunning number of more than 33,000 images of Jupiter and its five major satellites.
Here are some of the photographs of the Jupiter system.
And here are some of the Saturn system;
And the famous image of the Earth, dubbed as the Pale Blue Dot;
The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth. From the Voyager’s distance, Earth is a mere point of light. Do you see it? You might need to strain your eyes a bit!
Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space – the space between the stars.
After their completion of the primary mission, Voyagers are now on an extended mission of interstellar space exploration. Voyager 1 is already in the outer interstellar space and Voyager 2 is currently in the “Heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.
The Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) is broken down into three phases; termination shock, heliosheath exploration, interstellar exploration.
- Termination Shock
Solar wind, is a thin stream of electrically charged gas blowing outward billions of kilometers away from the Sun. This wind travels at a speed of about 300 to 700 km/s to reach to a point known as the termination shock. At this point, the speed of the solar wind drops abruptly as it feels the effects of the interstellar winds.
- Heliosheath exploration
A bubble made by the solar wind, known as the heliosphere moves with the Sun through interstellar space. The heliosheath is the outer region of the heliosphere. It is just beyond the termination shock, where the solar wind slows unexpectedly becoming denser and hotter. Then comes the heliopause, the boundary where the interstellar wind and solar wind are in equilibrium. This is where the solar wind curves back from the edge of the heliosphere, and once this place is crossed, we reach the interstellar space.
- Interstellar Space
It is defined as the space between the stars, or rather as the place where the Sun’s constant flow of material and magnetic field stop affecting its surroundings.
THE GOLDEN RECORD
Voyager Golden Record is a gold aluminium disc-like cover to protect Voyager 1 and 2 “Sounds of Earth” gold-plated records from micrometeorite bombardments. It also serves another purpose for the finder, a key to playing the record.
The explanatory diagram appears on both, the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, considering that the outer diagram will be eroded in time.
Flying aboard both the Voyagers, are the identical “golden” records carrying the story of Earth far into the deep space.
The discs are made in copper and are about 12 inches in diameter.
These discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras, and natural and man-made sounds from Earth. From electronic sounds to music records, from environmental sounds like the sound of wind, sea waves, rain, thunder to the sounds of insects, barking dogs, chirping birds, crying babies. From people laughing, walking, talking to the heartbeat of Carl Sagan’s wife. All of these sounds are recorded for the finder to hear and know that we exist, that Earth has life on it, and that the Universe is not a lonely place as it is said to be.
Isn’t it fascinating?
The first image below, engraved with the words “The Sounds of Earth” is the Voyager Golden Record, and the image below it, is the cover which protects it from erosion.
Current distance of the Voyagers from Earth (as of 9th of April, 2017) :
- Voyager 1 – 20,606,358,225 KM (20.6 million)
- Voyager 2 – 17,061,308,911 KM (17 million)
It takes 18 hours 53 minutes to send/receive a message from the Voyager 1. Round-communication is 37 hours 46 minutes.
Mind blowing, isn’t it?
The one thing I don’t understand is how I don’t receive the WiFi signal in my living room and these tough guys are still transmitting data to us from that dark void.
Now close your eyes and try to picture the current state of those spacecrafts in your mind, where might they be right now and under what conditions? What might they be looking at? The mesmerizing beauty of our galaxy or just the darkness of the deep space.
Currently, both the Voyagers probes are drifting through the black sea of space, exploring the uncharted and providing us priceless knowledge about the cosmos.
Voyager 1’s extended mission is expected to continue until 2025, when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate any of its scientific instruments.
Besides Voyager, Cassini-Huygens, an unmanned spacecraft sent to Saturn since 2004, is about to run out of fuel and scientists have decided to bid farewell to it by releasing it directly onto Saturn to avoid potential biological contamination. Cassini’s heroic death spiral is set to officially begin on April 22, 2017 and will take its final plunge on September 15, 2017 before it beams its last batch of images.