Anyone here who is interested in space I thought I would give this a mention.
These two probes got me interested in what's out there when I was a kid and it's pleasing to know they're still working after all these years and may still be when my kids get to my age.
25 YEARS LATER, VOYAGER MISSION KEEPS PUSHING THE SPACE
A quarter-century after NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft departed Earth to
visit outer planets, the historic mission is flying a race against time.
During the first 12 years after launch in 1977, the Voyagers chalked up a
wealth of discoveries about four planets and 48 moons, including fast winds on
Neptune, kinks in Saturn's rings and volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io. As scientists
and engineers mark the mission's silver anniversary, they hope at least one Voyager
will pass beyond the boundary of the Sun's influence before the onboard nuclear
power supply wanes too low to tell us what's out there. Voyager 1 is now the most
distant human-made object, about 85 times as far from the Sun as Earth is. Voyager
2 is now about 68 times the Sun-Earth distance.
"After 25 years, the spacecraft are still going strong," said Dr. Edward Stone,
Voyager project scientist since 1972 and former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Back in 1977, we had no way to know they would last
so long. We were initially just on a four-year journey to Jupiter and Saturn."
The Voyager team at JPL still receives information almost daily from the
durable spacecraft traveling beyond all the planets. The Voyagers are examining the
far reaches of the solar wind, a gusty flow of particles hurled outward by the Sun.
The eventual goal is to become the first spacecraft to taste interstellar space.
Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, flew past Jupiter and Saturn, then
angled northward out of the plane of the planets' orbits. After Voyager 2 launched
on Aug. 20, 1977, and completed its tour of Jupiter and Saturn, NASA extended the
spacecraft's adventure with flybys of Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989.
"A radio signal traveling at the speed of light takes nearly 12 hours to travel
between Voyager 1 and Earth. That raises operational concerns," said Ed Massey,
Voyager's project manager at JPL. " If something went wrong on board, at least a
full day would lapse before a signal revealing the problem could reach Earth and
commands to fix it could be returned. It could be too late." So the project team tries
to anticipate any emergencies and program the spacecraft's computers with advance
instructions on how to react to them, he said.
Both spacecraft are studying the vast bubble the Sun inflates around itself by
outward pressure of the solar wind. The bubble has a boundary, called the
heliopause, where this outward pressure is counterbalanced by inward pressure of
the interstellar wind in our neck of the galaxy. The interstellar wind outside that
boundary is a flow of atoms and other particles blasted from explosions of dying
stars. The location of the heliopause varies with the level of solar activity during the
Sun's 22-year sunspot cycle and with changes in the interstellar wind, Stone said.
Some scientists suggest that, on a much longer time scale, the interstellar wind may
occasionally press the boundary far enough inward to sway Earth's climate.
Voyager 1 is rushing toward the heliopause at about 1.6 million kilometers
(about one million miles) a day. Whether it gets there before about 2020, while it
still has adequate electrical power, depends on how far away the heliopause is.
Recent estimates are that, depending on that distance, it would take Voyager 1
between seven and 21 years to reach the heliopause.
Voyager 1 has already discovered that the outbound solar wind around it is
slowing from effects of inbound interstellar particles leaking through the boundary.
A much better prediction of the boundary's location will come when the spacecraft
encounters the termination shock, the zone where the solar wind begins piling up
against the heliopause. That encounter may come within the next three years, Stone
Whatever their future holds, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have already earned a
prominent place in the history of exploration. Among their big surprises: Jupiter's
moon Io has active volcanoes. Jupiter's atmosphere has dozens of huge storms.
Saturn's rings have kinks and spoke-like features. The hazy atmosphere of Saturn's
moon Titan extends far above the surface. Miranda, a small moon of Uranus, has a
jumble of old and new surfacing. Neptune has the fastest winds of any planet.
Neptune's moon Triton has active geysers.
Long after they fall silent, the Voyager twins will keep speeding away from
our solar system, each carrying an "interstellar outreach program" of recorded
sounds and images from Earth, Massey said.
Further information about Voyager's past discoveries, current interstellar
mission and messages from Earth is available at http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov . JPL, a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages Voyager for
NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.
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