SCIENTISTS IN THE US say that NASA’s Voyager 1 probe has officially left the solar system and is now continuing to wander the wider galaxy. It’s the first time a human-built spacecraft has travelled so far.
The craft was launched in 1977 on a mission to explore the outer planets of our solar system and to possibly journey into the unknown depths of outer space.
It’s exact position has been fiercely debated in the past year, because scientists have not known exactly what it would look like when the spacecraft crossed the boundary of the solar system (the tool on board that was meant to detect the change broke long ago).
US space agency scientists now agree that Voyager is officially outside the protective bubble known as the heliosphere that extends at least 13 billion kilometres beyond all the planets in our solar system, and has entered a cold, dark region known as interstellar space.
NASA has been hosting a news conference this evening to announce Voyager’s latest achievement. Making the official announcement, former astronaut John Grunsfeld took to the stage to the tune of the original Star Trek series, embarking on a speech heavy with references to the cult show (“to boldly go where no probe has gone before” etc). Outside of the general space-themed connection, there was evidently some planning behind the link: the first of the Star Trek movies featured a craft called ‘Voyager’ that had departed from the solar system hundreds of years previously and continued its mission across space, eventually developing its own consciousness.
On that occasion, Voyager (or V’ger, as it had become known) threatened to blow up the Enterprise along with planet Earth — Kirk and Spock eventually averting disaster as the craft departed for a different dimension (we think, it was very confusing).
Luckily for the people of Earth, and civilisation as a whole, there’s little chance of Voyager 1 making it as far as the 23rd Century; although the spacecraft is expected to keep cruising for now, the radioisotope thermo-electric generators that power it are beginning to run down, and its instruments will have to shut down permanently in 2025.
In the meantime it will continue to drift across space, carrying photos of Earth and its inhabitants, along with greetings from people in 55 languages, in the event that it’s ever found by intelligent lifeforms elsewhere. The craft is also carrying discs of music by a variety of Eastern and Western artists, including Mozart, Chuck Berry, and Blind Willie Johnson.
- Additional reporting, AFP