On September 5, 1977, NASA launched a space probe named Voyager 1 into the cosmos. Almost 45 years later, to the amazement of astronomers around the world, it continues to buzz as it travels far beyond Pluto.
In fact, Voyager 1 has traveled so far that it has left the confines of our solar system – and now it’s giving off strange readings that scientists are struggling to understand.
The mystery likely has something to do with Voyager 1 being the most distant man-made object in space. At a distance of 14.5 billion kilometers from Earth, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012. The heliopause is the barrier separating the Sun’s solar winds from the interstellar medium, or all the matter and radiation that exists in the space in between. different solar systems in the galaxy. This means that Voyager 1 is literally in the interstellar void of the Milky Way.
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This may have something to do with why the Jimmy Carter-era machine sends back signals that can only be described as odd.
“The interstellar explorer is operating normally, receiving and executing commands from Earth, as well as collecting and returning scientific data,” NASA explained on its website. “But readings from the probe’s articulation and attitude control system (AACS) do not reflect what is actually happening on board.”
“We are also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment in which no spacecraft has flown before.”
Specifically, NASA explained, AACS keeps the spacecraft’s antenna pointed at Earth so that it transmits data back to our planet. On the surface, the AACS appears to continue to work, but any telemetry data it has returned is invalid, such as appearing to be randomly generated or physically impossible. This raises questions.
“A mystery like this is somewhat normal at this point in the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement. “The spacecraft are both nearly 45 years old, which is far beyond what mission planners had anticipated.”
Dodd added: “We’re also in interstellar space – a high radiation environment that no spacecraft has flown in before. So there are big challenges for the engineering team. But I think that s there is a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it.”
RELATED: Voyager 1 probe is now so far away it can hear the background “hum” of interstellar space
It won’t be a magic bullet. A signal from Earth currently takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to reach Voyager 1, and vice versa. Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 are suffering from a dwindling power supply, forcing engineers to turn off parts to save as much as they can. Some hope that Voyager 1 will be able to continue transmitting data until 2025, after which its radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) will no longer be able to summon enough energy to keep its equipment operational.
Even though Voyager 1 turns out to be on its last legs sooner than expected, it still had a historic run. By flying over the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, as well as Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, it obtained detailed images and unprecedented amounts of data. The Voyager probe contains a so-called “golden record” (actually two phonograph recordings) that preserves Earth’s culture to any extraterrestrial beings who might stumble upon it and understand it. The gold-plated discs include everything from sounds of nature to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Chuck Berry.
Indeed, the Voyage 1 probe is now so deep in space that astronomers can literally hear the “hum” our solar system makes as the spacecraft moves outside of it.
“It’s very low and monotonous, because it’s in a narrow frequency bandwidth,” Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student in the Department of Astronomy and the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, told Salon at the time. about the study she was in. main author. “We are detecting the persistent faint hum of interstellar gas.”
One lead author – James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University – told Salon that “the interstellar medium is like a calm or gentle rain. In the case of a solar outburst, it’s like detecting a lightning bolt. in a thunderstorm, then it’s back to a gentle rain.”
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