After 36 years and a distance of 18 billion kilometers (11.18 billion miles), the space probe Voyager 1 has left our solar system and is headed out into interstellar space where it will drift along until someone out there finds it or it crashes into something – whichever comes first.
Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977. I was eight years old at the time.
The launch of Voyager was something that I didn’t pay much attention to. When you’re eight, you sort of have other interests and priorities but I remember reading the newspapers and watching television when the the pictures from Voyager 1 came back in March of 1979 on its closest flyby with Jupiter.
Of particular note were the images of one of Jupiter’s moons, Io.
There be volcanoes here! Active ones at that!
With over 400 active volcanoes, Io is the most geologically active object in the Solar System. This extreme geologic activity is the result of tidal heating from friction generated within Io’s interior as it is pulled between Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites—Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Several volcanoes produce plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide that climb as high as 500 km (300 mi) above the surface. Io’s surface is also dotted with more than 100 mountains that have been uplifted by extensive compression at the base of Io’s silicate crust. Some of these peaks are taller than Mount Everest. Unlike most satellites in the outer Solar System, which are mostly composed of water ice, Io is primarily composed of silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron sulfide core. Most of Io’s surface is composed of extensive plains coated with sulfur and sulfur dioxide frost.
In other words, this isn’t exactly a garden spot but if you’re like me and you love watching volcanic eruptions, Io and its 400 active volcanoes certainly won’t disappoint you provided, of course, you can find adequate protection from Jupiter’s radiation – which will kill you in under 15 minutes.
Voyager 1 then went on to Saturn to view the planet and its satellites, snapping some really terrific pictures like this one:
After some long study over the data that was sent back from Voyager 1 it was determined that on August 25, 2012 it had indeed left our solar system.
Voyager 1 is currently travelling at 1,000,000 miles per day, over 300 million miles a year, a billion miles every 3 years. I know that may sound fast to you, but consider:
In 36 years Voyager 1 has traveled some 11,625,000,000 miles at an average speed of 29,000 mph.
It takes over 17 hours for a message traveling at the speed of light to get from it to us.
If Julius Caesar had sent it in 50 BC, it would still have only traveled about 11% of a light year, or about 3% of the way to our nearest neighboring star, Alpha Centauri.
If the dinosaurs had managed to send it 60 million years ago, it would have traveled about 3,500 light years – the distance from Earth to the Draco Dwarf Galaxy.
When the Sun becomes so hot that all life on Earth fries and the oceans evaporate in about a billion years from now, it will have traveled about 25,000 light years, or a quarter of the diameter of the Milky Way.
By 2025, Voyager 1 will have exhausted its on-board plutonium battery where upon it will drift through the galaxy until either someone finds it or it crashes into something.
And to the alien civilization that happens to cross its path, we offer this:
The Sounds Of Earth.
From a greeting by then Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim, to greetings in every known language of planet Earth to the songs from all our cultures we offer this to you so that you may know of us and perhaps want to visit us someday (there’s a map on where to find us on the back of the record).
Hopefully we’ll still be here to greet you. If not, you can take this record back to your planet and tell your people about ours.
- Voyager 1 has left the Solar System. And it’s awesome. (knowledgeutopia.wordpress.com)
- Voyager 1 probe becomes first man-made object to leave solar system – CNN (edition.cnn.com)
- NASA: Voyager 1 Officially Reaches Interstellar Space (sciencespacerobots.com)
- Voyager 1 captures first-ever sounds of interstellar space (nbcnews.com)