NASA is shutting down the Voyager probe systems this year, Scientific American reported.
The probes are faltering after 45 years – this decision is a way to maintain them until 2030.
Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, went further than any other man-made object.
The epic interstellar journeys of NASA’s acclaimed Voyager probes are set to come to an end as the agency begins shutting down their systems, Scientific American reported.
The probes were launched 45 years ago, in 1977, and have since pushed the boundaries of space exploration. They’re farther from Earth than any other man-made object, a record that will likely stand unbroken for decades.
The decision to reduce the power of the probes aims to extend their life by a few more years and bring them to around 2030, Scientific American said.
“We did 10 times the guarantee on the damn things,” said Ralph McNutt, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, referring to initial projections that their mission would last four years.
The probes are powered by radioactive plutonium, which has kept the tiny on-board computers running for decades.
The power in the system is decreasing by about 4 watts per year, Scientific American said, requiring a reduction in power consumption.
“If all goes very well, we may be able to extend missions into the 2030s. It just depends on power. That’s the endpoint,” said Linda Spilker, planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. , to Scientific American.
The probes’ primary purpose was to fly past Jupiter and Saturn, a mission they quickly accomplished. Then they continued, sending back images of our solar system and beaming home readings from deep space.
In 1990, Voyager 1 captured the iconic “Pale Blue Dot” composite image, a view of Earth taken 3.7 billion miles from our sun.
More striking photos taken by the probes are seen in the video below.
In 1998, Voyager 1 became the furthest man-made object in space, 6.5 billion kilometers from Earth.
The probes are now 12 billion and 14.5 billion miles from Earth and counting, a NASA live tracker shows.
It is beyond what is generally considered the limits of our solar system. Voyager 1 reached “interstellar space” in 2012 and Voyager 2 in 2018 – the first human objects to do so in history.
The instrument’s hard-wired electronics have stood the test of time remarkably well, despite its age.
The primitive computers on board the probes do not require much power. All of the data collected by Voyager’s instruments is stored on an eight-track tape recorder and sent to earth using a machine that draws about as much power as a refrigerator light bulb, Scientific American said.
They have “less memory than the key fob that opens your car door,” Spilker said.
As the energy on board decreases, NASA will have to decide which instruments will be powered.
After 2030, Voyager will likely lose its ability to communicate with Earth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his mission will be over.
They both carry a “gold disc”, a 12-inch gold-plated disc that contains information about Earth.
This includes 115 images; greetings in 55 different languages; sounds, including wind, rain, and human heartbeat; and 90 minutes of music.
It will take about 20,000 more years before the probes pass the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, with this time capsule of human life, Scientific American reported.
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