Voyager And Its Journey Since 1977

The twin spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched by NASA in separate months in the summer of 1977. The Voyager mission was designed to take advantage of a rare geometric arrangement of the outer panels in the late 1970s and the 1980s which allowed for a four-planet tour for a minimum of propellant and trip time. This layout of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, which occurs about every 175 years, allows a spacecraft on a particular flight path to swing from one planet to the next without the need for large onboard propulsion systems.

Voyager 1 was the first to reach Jupiter in March of 1979, followed by Voyager 2 in August. The discovery of active volcanism on the satellite lo was easily the greatest unexpected discovery at Jupiter. It was the first time active volcanoes had been seen on another body in the solar system. The Voyager also discovered that the Great Red Spot was revealed as a complex storm moving in a counterclockwise direction, and a movie was made of it as Voyager 1 was inbound.

The Voyager spacecraft both used Jupiter's gravity as a free speed boost or a "slingshot" to reach Saturn. At Saturn, the Voyagers discovered many new details about Saturn's rings, as well as new data about Saturn's large moon Titan, which has an atmosphere. After the Saturn encounter, Voyager 1 headed "up" from Saturn, out of the plane of the ecliptic, whereas Voyager 2 continued towards Uranus and Neptune.

With Voyager 1's primary science phase over, Voyager 2 made the long journey out to Uranus, arriving in January 1986. The planet had never been visited before, and the encounter did not disappoint: Voyager 2 found eleven new moons and two new rings around the planet. This was the first ever visit to Uranus.

Voyager 2 makes its closest approach to Neptune, making it the first spacecraft to observe Neptune up close and the first to visit four planets beyond Earth. Highlights from the encounter include the discovery of six new moons, the first images of Neptune's rings, and the discovery of a huge, counter-clockwise rotating storm in Neptune's southern hemisphere, named "The Great Dark Spot".

An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft.
Source: NASA

After visiting Neptune, Voyager 2 turned "down" or south of the ecliptic plane, while Voyager 1 turned "up" or north of the plane. Each spacecraft headed out in a different direction, and they will never stop. In August 2012, it was determined that Voyager 1 had reached the edge of the Sun's influence (the heliopause), which is the boundary where the solar wind is balanced by the interstellar wind. Voyager 2 reached the heliopause in 2018.

The Voyager spacecraft are still sending back to this day, and the Milky Way forever. Each spacecraft carries a message, prepared by a team headed by Carl Sagan, in the form of a 12-inch (30-centimeter) diameter gold-plated copper disk for potential extraterrestrials who might find the spacecraft. Like the plaques on Pioneers 10 and 11, the record has symbols to show the location of Earth relative to several pulsars. The records also contain instructions to play them using a cartridge and a needle, much like a vinyl record player. The audio on the disk includes greetings in 55 languages, 35 sounds from life on Earth (such as whale songs, laughter, etc.), and 90 minutes of generally Western music including everything from Mozart and Bach of Chuck Berry and Blind Willie Johnson. It also included 115 images of life on Earth and recorded greetings.

FAQs

Q. What is Voyager 1?
ANS:
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA in 1977 to study the outer planets and interstellar space. It is the most distant human-made object from Earth.

Q. How far is Voyager 1 from Earth?
ANS:
Voyager 1 is currently over 14 billion miles away from Earth and continues to travel further into interstellar space.

Q. What was the purpose of the Golden Record?
ANS:
The Golden Record is a message to potential extraterrestrial civilizations, containing sounds and images that represent the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

Q. How does Voyager 1 communicate with Earth?
ANS:
Voyager 1 communicates with Earth using the Deep Space Network, a system of large radio antennas that send and receive signals across vast distances.

Q. What are the future plans for Voyager 1?
ANS:
Voyager 1 will continue its journey through interstellar space, transmitting data until its power sources can no longer support its instruments, expected to be around 2025.

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