There was quite a bit of celebration this week as Voyager 1 celebrated 35 years sweeping through our solar system. The hard-working little beast – despite its 1970s technology – is still powering on out there. Still propelled by its last gravity slingshot and crusiing on 350 Watts from its Plutonium batteries. It’s a Hell of an achievement, and I have nothing but respect for those NASA and JPL engineers of the bygone era, there attention to detail, dedication and technical know-how.
There was a lot of press over the last week or so with the headlines ‘Voyager Leaves the Solar Sytem’. The fact is no one will really be able to know – except in retrospect – when our silicon-and-alloy ambassador will really cross the Heliopause – the boundary of the Heliosheath where the suns influence stops and the cosmic wind takes over.
What they do know is that the cosmic rays being detected by Voyager have increased quite dramatically in comparison to its prior journey from the inner Solar System. This is a good indication its nearing the Heliopause. It’s only by analysing the data over a long period (and let’s hope old Voyager keeps ticking through the whole process) that the precise ‘boundary’ will be declared.
Amazing achievement though – Voyager is 18 billion kilometers (11 billion mi) from, the Sun. All the while carrying that gold disk with the ‘Sounds of Earth’ . God knows what any alien race will make of that – ‘Hey man, break out the record player. These cats don’t use vinyl.’
I can’t help but imagine the historical tours of the outer Solar System in a century where you speed out from Earth to Oort Cloud in a fast cruiser, snap out of suspension to watch in amazement as the ancient Voyager 1 limps along through the cosmic wind. Or the celebration in around 50,000 years when the little beast finally reaches a star poetically named AC+79 3888.