Voyager 1 Space Exploration Technology Solar System

 Our Solar System is a massive vacuum filled with planets, moons, dwarf planets, comets, asteroids, meteors and other space materials. The distance from one end of our system to the other is almost incomprehensibly long, the Sun being about 3.7 billion miles from Pluto. Some of our probes have been hurdling through this forlorn expanse for decades without ever reaching its borders. That is until now.

 Voyager 1, a probe launched on September 5th of 1977 weighing in at 1,592 pounds, has for all intended purposes reached the boundaries of our Solar System about two days ago. It is now the furthest man-made object from our little blue rock, being about 10.8 billion miles away from the Sun (that’s 10,800,000,000 miles). Traveling at 38,000 miles per hour, it took Voyager 33 years to reach this point, and NASA expects to be able to keep her going for another 5 years until 2015. Voyager may not last that long, but NASAs probes, rovers and satellites have been known to last amazingly longer than they were designed to. Another example of this is the Spirit rover that is still exploring Mars (though now as a stationary researcher) after being in moveable operation 20 times longer than NASA had originally planned.

Voyager 1 was launched with the mission to stop by and study both Jupiter and Saturn, being successful in that goal, it was the first probe ever to show detailed pictures of the two planets moons. Once completed, NASA then turned Voyagers attention toward studying the edges of the Solar System, including the Kuiper Belt, an area of frozen methane, ammonia and water that surrounds our system and is 20 times wider than the asteroid belt and about 20-200 times more massive.

In January of 1979 Voyager 1 began capturing the first in-depth images of Jupiter, making its closest approach sometime in March of that same year, at a distance of 217,000 miles (sounds far, but in a universal scale it really isn’t). In its nearest position, the probe was able to capture images of the planets moons, magnetic fields, rings and radiation belt of Jupiter. The most startling information gathered was the presence of volcano activities occurring on the Jovian moon, Io.

After watching Jupiter Voyager 1 then made a somewhat brief flyby of Saturn in November of 1980, making its closest approach on the 12th of that month. At a distance of 77,000 miles above the planets clouds Voyager was able to study the composition of Saturn’s rings along with its atmosphere. The probe was also able to investigate its massive moon, Titan on its way by. However, Titan’s gravitational pull ricocheted Voyager out of its path, finally ending its planetary expedition.

After 10 years of flying at a speed of 38,000 miles per hour past relatively empty space, Voyager 1 was able to take the first picture of our Solar System from the outside looking in. This picture was the furthest away from Earth ever taken and was hailed as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ photo, because that’s what our planet looked like in the vastness of space. We have Carl Sagan to thank for this image, as he had persuaded NASA control to turn the Voyager around in order to capture images from outside our system.

As of right now Voyager 1 is still sailing its way through space, though since 2007 several of its main powers have been disabled due to lack of electricity availability. These include the plasma subsystem shutting down, powering down its Planetary Radio Astronomy Experiment in 2008, and just recently in 2010 the scan platform and its ultraviolet spectrometer were terminated.

So what is Voyager 1 up to right now? Well, still being turned about face it continues to study our Solar System as it continues on its way into interstellar space. NASAs goal is for the probe to investigate the Heliopause, an expanse where solar wind from our Sun enters into interstellar medium. The medium is an area in between solar systems, which is filled with various gases, dust and other materials. Think of it as a long rural highway between two major cities.

As stated in the beginning, two days ago Voyager 1 exited our Solar System, finally reaching the point where our Suns solar wind has dissipated into the interstellar medium. Who knows what will come next for this little probe that could, only time will tell.

 As always keep your eyes to the sky, and when you’re feeling down just imagine how lonely Voyager 1 must be sailing through a rural, empty highway billions of miles long!