#1 Edited by mlarrabee (3221 posts) -

It's official: Voyager 1 left this Solar System bound for a different one.

Voyager 1

Voyager 1 was launched by NASA in 1977. Its mission was to enable study of the outer planets, but it wasn't intended to return. We fired a bullet into space and it's going to keep moving. The probe is now twelve billion miles from Earth, so any radio interactions take seventeen hours to transfer. At such a distance, Voyager 1's Plasma Wave Science instrument (that's really its designation) began indicating that it was reaching the edge of our Solar System.

This news is a bit late, since it's believed to have passed the edge on August 25th, 2012, but NASA scientists wanted to confirm their suspicions as much as possible before releasing the news. Late last year, the decreased intensity in energetic particles from the Sun, coupled with an increase in low-energy cosmic rays signified that Voyager 1 was reaching the boundary of the Solar System, to become the first man-made object to do so.

Pale Blue Dot, taken by Voyager 1 in 1990

Around 2004, Voyager 1 reached the termination shock point, an area of subsonic solar winds. The icon of the Solar System's edge is the heliopause, beyond the termination shock. The heliopause is the point at which solar wind merges with the ISM (interstellar medium). Pressures within and without the Solar System are relatively balanced here, creating an "eye of the storm" that encircles our cluster of planets.

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To give you some scale, Voyager 1 passed by:

Jupiter on March 5th, 1979

Saturn on November 12th, 1980

Uranus on January 24th, 1986

and Neptune on August 25th, 1989.

And on August 25th, 2012, it left the Solar System. It's been traveling for thirty-six years; it's currently moving at eleven miles per second, relative to the Sun.

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Voyager 1 is powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, meaning electricity is generated by radioactive decay. Each generator contains twenty-four plutonium-238 spheres that release heat as they decay, which is converted into electricity through the Seebeck effect. Because the plutonium is decaying, the power output of the RTGs is halved every eighty-eight years, meaning that Voyager 1 will be drifting aimlessly and mutely in 2026.

EDIT: NASA's dedicated Voyager 1 website gives a basic overview of the external systems on the craft. It's amazing that 1977 technology is not only still running, but capable of reliably transmitting data twelve billion miles.

As you can see, the three RTGs are noted on the left boom while the components of the Plasma Wave Science instrument are in the middle of the right boom.

Every week, Voyager 1 records ninety-six seconds of plasma wave data using its Digital Tape Recorder, at a quality of 115.2 kbps--a little less than CD audio quality. This is twice the amount that other spacecraft are assigned (no rest for the wicked, I guess). Note that this isn't an audio recording but one of plasma wave readings. Every six months this data is transmitted back to Earth, where it's distributed to various scientific organizations internationally.

#2 Edited by Nightriff (6312 posts) -

I have no idea what you said for half of that but super interesting. GO EARTH!!!! Take that alien motherfuckers.

#3 Edited by Capum15 (5113 posts) -

Read an article about this earlier today.

Pretty fucking awesome.

#4 Posted by Dalai (7773 posts) -

It'll be back.

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#5 Edited by MariachiMacabre (7097 posts) -

Amazing news.

#6 Posted by The_Laughing_Man (13807 posts) -

Isnt this how Veger was born?

#7 Posted by BigJeffrey (5048 posts) -

We are fucked, that shit had Human DNA. This is how the world gets invaded by Aliens.

#8 Posted by Clonedzero (4206 posts) -

Fuck Neelix, that dude made Voyager unwatchable with his stupidity. I mean holy shit, what were they thinking with that character?

#9 Posted by SlashDance (1864 posts) -

If we define the solar system as the sun and everything that primarily orbits the sun, however, Voyager 1 will remain within the confines of the solar system until it emerges from the Oort cloud in another 14,000 to 28,000 years. (source)

Well, fuck.

#10 Edited by mlarrabee (3221 posts) -

@slashdance said:

If we define the solar system as the sun and everything that primarily orbits the sun, however, Voyager 1 will remain within the confines of the solar system until it emerges from the Oort cloud in another 14,000 to 28,000 years. (source)

Well, fuck.

That page may actually be outdated. In March of this year, NASA responded negatively to claims that the probe had left the Solar System. 1 However, the primary page of NASA's site dedicated to Voyager 1 claims now that it has indeed gone interstellar. 2

http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

EDIT: But as you said, we had to define "interstellar" pretty generously to claim that distinction for humanity while we still could.

#11 Edited by Akyho (1817 posts) -

That is pretty mind boggling to understand the definition of "outside" our solar system.

It takes 8 months to go from earth to mars on current rockets. It hut Jupiter in 79 and hut Neptune in 89 with only 2013 being counted as outside the solar system. The amount of distance is realt the mind bender, then again jupiter can hold something like 2000? earths inside of it don't even try to think about scale when you start including giant stars like Pollux.

This video really shows you why outside of a solar system is pretty hard to define.

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#12 Posted by TooWalrus (13330 posts) -

That's pretty damn cool, too bad it's going far to slow to actually get anywhere else.

#13 Posted by Donkeycow (568 posts) -

@toowalrus: To slow to get anywhere in our lifetime let alone that of our species, but it will one day get somewhere, and i think ultimately that is what matters.

#14 Posted by Seppli (11233 posts) -

Awesome OP. Love this kinda stuff. To the moon, and beyond!

Congratulations, you've just been promoted to First Sience Officer of the USS GiantBomb.

#15 Edited by MachoFantastico (5492 posts) -

Wouldn't it be absolutely amazing if one day, we could get continued real footage of what it's like out there. I'm sure it'll happen one day, but to see it would be amazing. By real footage I mean continued video that you could stream in and watch.

#16 Posted by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

Wouldn't it be absolutely amazing if one day, we could get continued real footage of what it's like out there. I'm sure it'll happen one day, but to see it would be amazing. By real footage I mean continued video that you could stream in and watch.

I agree with you that it would be quite cool, but for a few thousand years until it gets closer to our nearest system, I get the impression it would be a whole lot of this:

Majestic.

heh. Though, all kidding aside, that's probably just from what we can see normally. If the camera has a much wider spectrum than human vision, then I believe it'd probably look something more like this:

Now that is quite the sight.

Today's news about Voyager 1 was super exciting, and it's something that all human beings should celebrate. :)

#17 Edited by TheHT (12341 posts) -

@truthtellah: Yeesh, if I were drifting through space I dunno how much I could take of just pitch black all around you, nevermind the fact that I'm drifting through space.

I mean, if I could see more stuff like that second picture as I float around waiting to die, it wouldn't be half as bad as being engulfed by the void. Unless I were to venture into a black hole. Now that would be interesting.

#18 Posted by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

@theht: Yeah, I'd probably stare into some displays of what it really looks like outside and not just what I can see. Though, uh, I'd hope to never be trapped out there. ha.

As for getting sucked into a black hole, I think that would likely be a horrific death. It's all theoretical, but I haven't heard of a pleasant possibility. You would likely be accelerated very quickly, and if you didn't black out immediately, you'd probably feel like all of your muscles and bones were tearing apart. Your body would start cooking and burning as it elongated. And if by some miracle(or nightmare) you were able to be conscious as it happened, you might just experience it abnormally slowly and feel a long, seemingly unending agony toward eventual death as a burnt puddle of human flesh.

But yeah, I do suppose it would at least be interesting.

#19 Posted by Dethfish (3739 posts) -

It sure took its sweet-ass time

#20 Posted by OfficeGamer (1120 posts) -

I tried to understand as much of your jargon as I could and this sounds super hella interesting.

I might've missed this detail in your OP but, where does the Voyager 1 get its energy? How has it been running and transmitting through space for 3 decades? We need that 1970s space battery for our smartphones!

#21 Posted by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

I tried to understand as much of your jargon as I could and this sounds super hella interesting.

I might've missed this detail in your OP but, where does the Voyager 1 get its energy? How has it been running and transmitting through space for 3 decades? We need that 1970s space battery for our smartphones!

Voyager 1 uses a radioactive plutonium power supply that will probably last for another decade or so. NASA switched off its cameras over twenty years ago to save power, and it is certainly lasting far longer than ever originally planned.

#22 Posted by Gamer_152 (14282 posts) -

God speed brave probe, you are cool as balls.

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#23 Posted by mlarrabee (3221 posts) -

@officegamer said:

I tried to understand as much of your jargon as I could and this sounds super hella interesting.

I might've missed this detail in your OP but, where does the Voyager 1 get its energy? How has it been running and transmitting through space for 3 decades? We need that 1970s space battery for our smartphones!

Voyager 1 uses a radioactive plutonium power supply that will probably last for another decade or so. NASA switched off its cameras over twenty years ago to save power, and it is certainly lasting far longer than ever originally planned.

This. That bit is sort of unintentionally hidden after the Earth flyover video, right before the edit. The photos of the probe show the three generators as bulky cylinders on the left boom.

If I remember correctly, several years ago the Plasma Wave system was in the list of systems to be made dormant, but a collective of scientists who were dedicated to solar plasma analysis successfully petitioned NASA to keep it running.

#24 Posted by FLStyle (5548 posts) -

I can't believe it's still running on 1970s technology, I wonder what NASA must use to stay in contact with it, fascinating.

#26 Posted by isomeri (1770 posts) -

Thegoldenrecord.org is a great resource to familiarize yourself with the contents that Voyager has taken with it outside of our system.

#27 Posted by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

@truthtellah said:

@officegamer said:

I tried to understand as much of your jargon as I could and this sounds super hella interesting.

I might've missed this detail in your OP but, where does the Voyager 1 get its energy? How has it been running and transmitting through space for 3 decades? We need that 1970s space battery for our smartphones!

Voyager 1 uses a radioactive plutonium power supply that will probably last for another decade or so. NASA switched off its cameras over twenty years ago to save power, and it is certainly lasting far longer than ever originally planned.

This. That bit is sort of unintentionally hidden after the Earth flyover video, right before the edit. The photos of the probe show the three generators as bulky cylinders on the left boom.

If I remember correctly, several years ago the Plasma Wave system was in the list of systems to be made dormant, but a collective of scientists who were dedicated to solar plasma analysis successfully petitioned NASA to keep it running.

Yeah, back in 2005, NASA was being forced to cut costs, and they were planning to save a few million dollars a year by switching off those systems and ending their monitoring and analysis. Fortunately, both NASA and Congress were successfully lobbied to cut costs elsewhere and allow the Voyager missions to fully continue.

Though, it is worth noting that some scientists still believe that we should wait a few more years for Voyager 2 to get to interstellar space, as it has all of its original Plasma systems. Voyager 1 has one remaining that has allowed for the interpretation of this result, but Voyager 2's results will be more definitive and telling about what the edge of the solar system is like.

#28 Edited by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

@mlarrabee said:

@truthtellah said:

@officegamer said:

I tried to understand as much of your jargon as I could and this sounds super hella interesting.

I might've missed this detail in your OP but, where does the Voyager 1 get its energy? How has it been running and transmitting through space for 3 decades? We need that 1970s space battery for our smartphones!

Voyager 1 uses a radioactive plutonium power supply that will probably last for another decade or so. NASA switched off its cameras over twenty years ago to save power, and it is certainly lasting far longer than ever originally planned.

This. That bit is sort of unintentionally hidden after the Earth flyover video, right before the edit. The photos of the probe show the three generators as bulky cylinders on the left boom.

If I remember correctly, several years ago the Plasma Wave system was in the list of systems to be made dormant, but a collective of scientists who were dedicated to solar plasma analysis successfully petitioned NASA to keep it running.

Yeah, back in 2005, NASA was being forced to cut costs, and they were planning to save a few million dollars a year by switching off those systems and ending their monitoring and analysis. Fortunately, both NASA and Congress were successfully lobbied to cut costs elsewhere and allow the Voyager missions to continue unabated.

Though, it is worth noting that some scientists still believe that we should wait a few more years for Voyager 2 to get to interstellar space, as it has all of its original Plasma systems. Voyager 1 has one remaining that has allowed for the interpretation of this result, but Voyager 2's results will be more definitive and telling about what the edge of the solar system is like.

#29 Posted by TruthTellah (9634 posts) -

@flstyle said:

I can't believe it's still running on 1970s technology, I wonder what NASA must use to stay in contact with it, fascinating.

NASA uses a few things to keep track of it, and it really is quite a feat. The Voyager probes have 14 foot dishes pointed directly at a dish on Earth over 100 feet wide, and they transmit in the 8GHz frequency to have minimal interference. Though, the truly amazing part is that we are able to detect their small signals that are billions of times smaller than the wattage in your average digital watch. The probes record data once a week, and then send it all out twice a year. Since they're looking for the signals from an exact spot at an exact time and at the exact frequency, they can still capture it from over 12 billion miles away.

#30 Edited by PenguinDust (12792 posts) -
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Isn't picking up our space trash always how aliens find out about us and decide to invade? I'm telling you, no good will come of this.