NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft have outlived everyone’s expectations. Now approaching interstellar space, nearly 19 billion miles from our Sun.
The probes still possess power to run their instruments, but limited supplies of radioactive material that generate the craft’s electricity will eventually force scientists to deactivate each of the seven remaining science subsystems.
Voyager probes are so far away from Earth that their radio signals take more than 12 hours to reach us – yet they continue providing important scientific data.
Though old, spacecraft are operating more efficiently than ever thanks to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California’s engineers using innovative strategies to keep Voyagers alive.
Mission Goal: to obtain knowledge about interstellar space beyond our solar system. Both Voyagers were launched weeks apart in 1977 as the first human-made objects to leave our heliosphere and potentially further. Scientists intend to extend these voyages so as to study what lies beyond.
Voyager spacecraft are equipped with a large high-gain antenna (the black dish in the top photo), along with 11 scientific instruments – cameras and spectrometers are located on an easily transportable platform, while others are mounted directly to their spacecraft buses.
Scientists designed Voyager probes to last about four years and send back information during that time period, but they have far outlived that expectation, even performing flybys of Jupiter and Saturn!
As soon as Voyagers reach interstellar space, their power won’t be sufficient to run all their science instruments. As soon as this occurs, their team will individually shut off each instrument based on power consumption and scientific relevance – leaving just enough energy in reserve as part of a safety system for continued operations.
Voyager spacecraft have been flying for 45 years, and engineers continue to learn from them. Yet at launch, NASA had anticipated that their mission would only last four years.
Engineers employed several strategies to conserve power while keeping their probes operating, such as equipping their computers with only 69kilobytes of memory – less than the storage capacity of modern smartphones.
Voyager 1 recently passed the edge of our solar system’s heliosphere into interstellar space – filled with material released by dying stars ejected into interstellar space by Voyagers 1 and 2. Voyagers carried 12-inch golden phonograph records featuring pictures and sounds of Earth as well as some Chuck Berry music as a time capsule intended for any alien civilization that might find the probes. Voyagers also contained 12-inch golden records containing pictures and sounds from Earth for any potential alien civilization who might recover the probes; Voyagers 1 recently passed beyond this edge into interstellar space filled with debris ejected from dying stars as it made its way past our solar system’s heliosphere; carrying 12-inch golden records with photos and sounds recorded audio from Earth to playback any alien civilization who might find our probes! Voyager 1 has recently passed beyond our solar system into interstellar space, filled with material being released by dying stars as material from dying stars has begun spilling out into interstellar space filled with material being expelled outward from our solar system’s heliosphere into interstellar space filled with material expelled outward by dying stars dying stars dying outward from planets’ heliosphere into interstellar space.
Voyager spacecraft are currently at the edges of our solar system and moving through an interstellar bubble, having spent 45 years exploring space. Their journey represents more human-made objects being deployed into space.
Voyager 1 and 2’s instruments are still operational, although their power reserves have gradually diminished over time. NASA plans to turn off non-essential science instruments by 2025 in order to conserve energy.
Both Voyagers carry golden records that contain images and diagrams from Earth as well as sound clips ranging from whale calls to Chuck Berry music and greetings from 55 languages – these records serve as cosmic messages for extraterrestrial life that might discover them! Learn more about JPL’s Voyager site.
As Voyagers made their journey beyond our solar system, scientists realized they wouldn’t be able to call back home. To ensure their messages would reach extraterrestrials, scientists created two Golden Records on each Voyager that included sounds from Earth (ranging from whale calls to Chuck Berry music) as well as 55 different greetings in 55 languages.
Once they reached Saturn, Voyagers 1 and 2 separated; Voyager 1 flew through Saturn’s rings discovering new moons while Voyager 2 hurtled past Titan and onto Uranus and Neptune before turning north and entering outer edge of our heliosphere, while Voyager 2 continued south into interstellar space.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have now ventured more than 40 billion miles away from Earth, or 125 light years. Though no longer communicating directly with their home planet, the two Voyagers continue gathering data about this region which contains debris from dying stars.