Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, originally intended to explore the outer planets of our solar system, have now entered interstellar space. There, they will remain for thousands of years before returning home.
NASA prepared two Golden Records that contain music and greetings in 55 languages to reassure any alien civilization they might come across.
The Voyager Mission
Voyager 1 and 2 have ventured so far out from Earth that they have moved beyond our solar system’s radio contact range, likely continuing on their interstellar journey for over 40,000 years.
Voyager probes contain enough electricity and thruster fuel to continue functioning with their science instruments until 2025, after which only periodic electronic beeps will indicate their locations in deep space.
The main bus of each spacecraft is a 10-sided box 5.9 feet (1.8 meters). Inside are housed the scientific instruments and electronics for its mission. Furthermore, each spacecraft features an antenna resembling that of satellite dish to receive instructions from and send data back to Earth.
Both Voyagers carry a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk known as the Golden Record that contains pictures and sounds from Earth as a greeting to any extraterrestrial civilization that might discover them. Additionally, this record features music, scientific data, symbolic instructions for playing back the record – Voyager 1 finally entered interstellar space after reaching its outer boundaries in 2012.
The Voyager Transmitter
Voyagers connect to NASA’s Deep Space Network, an array of giant radio antennas distributed at multiple sites from Goldstone in California to Madrid in Spain. Signals travel between 34-meter and 70-meter antennas allowing scientists to gauge where a signal originated as well as its distance to Voyager spacecraft.
Scientists expected Voyager 1 and 2 to observe an exponential rise in cosmic rays upon exiting the heliosphere–the protective cocoon of charged particles that shield us from supernovae and other cosmic catastrophes–but instead discovered a drop in particle rates while steady increases were noted among cosmic rays.
Stone’s team at JPL, home of the Voyager mission, are readying themselves to send a command that should activate another set of sensors on both probes, so scientists can begin deciphering their data.
The Voyager Spacecraft
Voyager spacecrafts have been exploring interstellar space for over four decades now – farther from Earth and Sun than Pluto! As humanity’s sole extensions outside heliosphere, these extraordinary science missions offer unprecedented views into what lies beyond our Solar System.
Each craft carries 11 science instruments attached to a puck-shaped bus that serves as the hub of its spacecraft. A 12-ft diameter high gain antenna and telemetry modulation unit receive signals from Earth while radioisotope thermoelectric generators powered by plutonium-238 heat create electricity for powering this bus.
When the Voyagers first visited Jupiter and Saturn, their arrival astonished scientists. Exploring magnetospheres, rings and moons of these two planets with remarkable detail was remarkable enough; but then when they discovered active volcanoes on Io, fissured ice fields on Saturn Titan and Uranus as well as Neptune’s Great Dark Spot they provided even greater amazement to scientists – as well as carrying coded messages for any alien civilization who might encounter them!