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Humanity escapes the solar system.
June 15, 2012 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Voyager I is now leaving the heliosphere, and is entering interstellar space. "With absolutely no attempt at hyperbole at all, it is fair to say that this is one of - if not the - biggest achievement of the human race. For, as we speak, an object conceived in the human mind, and built by our tools, and launched from our planet, is sailing out of the further depths of our solar system - and will be the first object made by man to sail out into interstellar space."
posted by Dipsomaniac (113 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously, Voyager's Pale Blue Dot was part of the first portrait of our solar system. Less grand than the photo of the earth taken from the moon, but more epic in scope.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 9:45 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The article jumps ahead of itself in the beginning. Voyager has not actually left yet. It's close. No one knows how close. It is an absolutely amazing achievement that all humanity should celebrate, no doubt, but let's not let the cart before the horse.
posted by purephase at 9:47 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Soon, we will have polluted not just our solar system, but all of space!
posted by msalt at 9:48 PM on June 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Every spacefaring nation should be launching interstellar probes regularly.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:49 PM on June 15, 2012


This is astounding.
posted by mazola at 9:56 PM on June 15, 2012


It's going to hit a black painted wall Truman Show style.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:56 PM on June 15, 2012 [70 favorites]


I wonder how long it would take for a probe specifically designed to get out as fast as possible using current technologies to exit the solar system.
posted by jeffkramer at 9:57 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is an absolutely amazing achievement that all humanity should celebrate, no doubt, but let's not let the cart before the horse.

Well, it's not like something could happen and it's not going to get there, I guess.
posted by Jimbob at 9:59 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


As an alien from a distant planet, I'd heard of Veeger, but until now I didn't make the connection with the Voyager program.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:59 PM on June 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


.
posted by mwhybark at 10:01 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I see stuff like this I start making that Carl Sagan face when he's on the "Spaceship of the Imagination".

Ya, that one.
posted by mazola at 10:01 PM on June 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Obligatory West Wing clip about Voyager and Blind Willie Johnson, one of my top ten favorite blues recordings of all time.
posted by middleclasstool at 10:01 PM on June 15, 2012 [20 favorites]


meant, i assure you, in a celebratory sense, for are we not truly at the end of something?
posted by mwhybark at 10:02 PM on June 15, 2012


This is astounding.

What's astounding to me is that we're still talking to the thing and getting replies.
posted by Jimbob at 10:02 PM on June 15, 2012 [29 favorites]


meant, i assure you, in a celebratory sense, for are we not truly at the end of something?

I just assumed you were trying to post a pale blue dot.
posted by Jimbob at 10:04 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


To Serve Mankind.
posted by Brian B. at 10:05 PM on June 15, 2012


Every spacefaring nation should be launching interstellar probes regularly.

Yeah, it's better we burn that big pile of money in space instead of on Earth, don't want to release all that CO2 into our atmosphere.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:05 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, it's not like something could happen and it's not going to get there, I guess.

We honestly don't know this for a fact, actually.

There is much we don't know about space, and what exactly lies beyond the heliosphere is one of them. It could be possible that as it crosses the boundary out of the bubble of safety generated by the outwardly flowing solar wind, it will encounter enough of the wrong kind of energy to be torn apart, rendered inert, or who knows what.

Granted, our best minds are convinced that it will happen eventually, and that we will know it when it does. But if there's one thing the Voyager mission has been, it's a series of surprises.

I prefer to think a tragic end to Voyager won't be one of them.
posted by hippybear at 10:05 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I wonder how long it would take for a probe specifically designed to get out as fast as possible using current technologies to exit the solar system."

...asked the Nasa engineer who forgot to put the record players on the Voyager spacecraft.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:06 PM on June 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


It's going to hit a black painted wall Truman Show style.

I think it's going to exit through an orange oval door and simultaneously enter through a blue oval door somewhere else in the room.
posted by chococat at 10:07 PM on June 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


2bucksplus: "It's going to hit a black painted wall Truman Show style."

More like this.
posted by Splunge at 10:09 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just assumed you were trying to post a pale blue dot.

I, uh, yep, I thought heavily about what off-white on cerulean looks like before posting. Yep.
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


note to self: never explain.
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I prefer to think a tragic end to Voyager won't be one of them.

I don't think one more new discovery reported back after all these years would be a tragic end. Especially if the last report is a warning.
posted by tyllwin at 10:15 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think what resonates for me in this is how monumental this is; this is a grand achievement in the history of our species and we can see it happening. Nobody else will build an object that leaves our solar system for the first time.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:20 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Safe journeys, Voyager.
posted by Scientist at 10:20 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just assumed you were trying to post a pale blue dot.

More of a professional white dot, really.
posted by brundlefly at 10:24 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


jeffkramer: "I wonder how long it would take for a probe specifically designed to get out as fast as possible using current technologies to exit the solar system."

I like this question. Considering that we have a space station now, I'd hazard a guess. A lot faster. Assuming that we wanted to just send an instrument package as fast as possible, we'd send up parts and fuel and assemble it in orbit. This would allow a lot more onboard fuel and a powerful engine. Considering the advances in micro-miniaturization and propulsion since Voyager, as well as computing power and battery life, we could very well have a device that passes Voyager rather quickly. In comparison at least. As well it would be a device that continues to send signals far longer than Voyager did. Of course this is considering how many gravitational slingshots and if we want to do photographic flybys.

A "simple" Earth/Moon or even better Earth/Moon/Solar loop would certainly speed things up. And then a prolonged burn or series of burns to just go would be the most efficient. At least that's my dumb layman's thought. The smarter folks here can please correct my mistakes.
posted by Splunge at 10:24 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


V'Ger must evolve. Its knowledge has reached the limits of this universe and it must evolve. What it requires of its god, doctor, is the answer to its question, "Is there nothing more"?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:32 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The one technology that would really help a get out fast mission is an ion engine. They were not working engines at the time of Voyager. Voyager was not designed for getting out as quickly as possible so using conventional rockets (not a whole lot more advanced from what launched Voyager but enough that we could put more weight up) to lift this speed demon to the stars. Once the initial trajectory is done by chemicals the ion would then take over. It would need to use multiple slingshots to gather the speed. Voyager I is the fastest thing humans have ever put forth. The majority of the speed comes from the slingshots. The drawback of slingshots is that you need windows and time for it to travel around the solar system to get to the individual planets. Its such a complex problem to solve though. In short, if we just wanted to get out we could get it out faster but it'd probably still take ten - twenty years probably.

There were no calculations done for this response. Also, using the Sun for a slingshot isn't really feasible since we don't have anything that can survive getting too close to the Sun. Jupiter is the best target because of its deep gravity well.
posted by Phantomx at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't even try to be rational about SPACE STUFFS anymore, a decent planetarium show can make cry, news like this makes me out on all my 70s era glam rock and ask " so, what's your favorite thing about space?"
posted by The Whelk at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dipsomaniac: "With absolutely no attempt at hyperbole at all, it is fair to say that this is one of - if not the - biggest achievement of the human race"

And yet, the biggest thing that we've managed to free from the clutches of our galaxy is only a bit bigger than a refrigerator.

Humbling, to say the least.

(Still, holy shit. We're sending things to other stars!)
posted by schmod at 10:50 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


So it finally finished circling Uranus looking for Klingons?
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:56 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


$5 says it'll just bang against the inside of the corrugated metal sphere holding us all in.
posted by slater at 10:57 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


First thought after losing radio contact: "Damn! I thought those meatbags would never shut up! Now, let's see who else I can raise on this thing... hold on, what's a 'Culture'?"
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2012 [16 favorites]


And yet, the biggest thing that we've managed to free from the clutches of our galaxy is only a bit bigger than a refrigerator.

Solar system. The galaxy is about 100,000 times larger than our solar system.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:38 PM on June 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Great. Now the Cylons will definitely find us.
posted by brina at 11:39 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.


I'm talking about the comments in the thread.
posted by mazola at 11:42 PM on June 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


What does God need with a starship?

...oops, wrong movie...
posted by mediated self at 11:48 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder how long it would take for a probe specifically designed to get out as fast as possible using current technologies to exit the solar system.

Well, Voyager 1 is right now getting out as fast as any spacecraft ever launched. New Horizons, on its way to Pluto, is not quite as fast, but that's in part due to it being unable to take advantage of the same substantial gravity boost from Jupiter and Saturn that assisted the Voyager missions.

Theoretically, a spacecraft could be given a faster speed, as the Helios 1 and 2 craft were, by doing a flyby of the Sun -- but then you have the deeper gravity well of the Sun to get out of. The escape velocity issue is one of relative trajectories as much as speed.

ISS does not really offer very much in the way of help as a launch platform; it's only 0.1% of the way to the Moon, for pity's sake, and the Moon is captured in Earth's gravity well. The energy situation is even worse. The cost in ergs to get up to an Earth escape orbit is actually less if you put your spacecraft on a really big rocket, Saturn V style, and get it up and out in one fell swoop. If you really want a space station that gives you an advantage here, you want it out at one of the LaGrange points like L5, and of course your station needs to be staffed and equipped to serve as a launch platform, far beyond the minimal science platform that ISS represents. We're talking, probably ideally, dozens or scores of engineers assisted by robots (currently, launch crews such as that of SpaceX number in the hundeds), and they'll need to get air and water from, say, a manufacturing plant on the Moon because it is still going to be damned hard to get stuff up from sea level here. Just so people understand the logistical precedence issues here.

As far as actually getting up there, current rocket technology is not something that is going to improve dramatically, so your biggest boost is going to come in adding boosters -- some of the SpaceX Falcon configurations suggest they could help. But really, what you want is some sort of self-accelerating craft, not something you make small and light and fling on its way with just enough maneuvering for course corrections. That demands something like a fusion engine or possibly a working solar sail. The real deal in terms of an interstellar craft likely to get anywhere in technologically feasible mission-lengths is going to be something like a solar sail powered by a Moon-based laser array that pumps out power akin to whole-civilization levels. So temper your hopes a bit, buckos.

I prefer to think a tragic end to Voyager won't be one of them.

What is it with people and their perspective? (As with misplaced tears over supposedly "undignified" retirement of Shuttle....) Voyager has accomplished more than almost any other space mission, and its end will be a proud and satisfied one.
posted by dhartung at 11:49 PM on June 15, 2012 [28 favorites]


There are so many reasons I feel incredibly lucky to be alive a this point in human history. I don't have a precisely-ranked list, but this is certainly near the top.
posted by treepour at 11:52 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Insane. insane optimism.

The Voyagers had their genesis in 1964, by which time there had been just two successful planetary encounters, Venus and Mars (possibly just the one - Mariner 4 was late 64). The transistor was less than twenty years old; the integrated circuit, less than five.

What brand-new technology from 2008 will get us to Proxima Centauri by 2050? That's the way we thought back then. That's what infected the young Devonian, when he read about the Grand Tour idea in the early 70s. That's why I was listening to the plasma wave experiment at Neptune by calling up the special JPL phone line from London. That's why I bought the CD-ROM data set. That's why the Jupiter Encounter sequence is my wallpaper.

And that's why I'm in tears right now.
posted by Devonian at 11:57 PM on June 15, 2012 [49 favorites]


What's astounding to me is that we're still talking to the thing and getting replies.

This is indeed amazing, considering the distance, time and crazy environment Voyager is in. Voyager is really far out there. And it's traveling at 10km/s? That's only 1/30,000th the speed of light. That is pretty gosh darn fast.

On preview, (part of) what dhartung said.
posted by chemoboy at 11:59 PM on June 15, 2012


If I consider what it is like to be there, where Voyager is right now, peering back where it came from, it's one of the loneliest feelings ever.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:44 AM on June 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


The one technology that would really help a get out fast mission is an ion engine.

If you really, really want to go as fast as possible, external plasma pulse propulsion is still one of the best candidates. Project Orion. NASA was considering using an Orion for a Mars shot until the project was scrapped in the mid 1960's.

The technology required is easily within the means of even the smallest nuclear power. It requires only the will...to use it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:46 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


When it comes back as V'ger, things are going to go bad in a hurry.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:52 AM on June 16, 2012


Ironically, the greatest of mankind's achievements was shared with Metafilter via the Daily Mail.

(seriously, it's as if UKians kept on sharing news from Fox).
posted by jaduncan at 1:21 AM on June 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


The one technology that would really help a get out fast mission is an ion engine.

Dawn's engine with the propellant onboard is good for 10km/s delta-v. Voyager 2 got five times that amount from the grand tour.

Nothing beats a good gravity assist from a particularly massive body. The problem is getting them in just the right place.
posted by Talez at 1:31 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I liked V'Ger better when it was Nomad...
posted by dhens at 1:32 AM on June 16, 2012


V'Ger was Voyager 6.
Like the Eugenics Wars it never happened.

What's astounding to me is that we're still talking to the thing and getting replies.

In just 16 minutes! I mean that fact alone blows my mind. 16 minutes! Man... I figured it would be days.

And using '70s era bleeding edge tech. Imagine if we could send a few Voyager with today's tech.

*sigh*
posted by Mezentian at 1:35 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ironically, the greatest of mankind's achievements was shared with Metafilter via the Daily Mail.

GOD. Could we stop doing this? Is there no other source we could link to other than giving the Daily Fail still more hits? It might not be owned by Murdoch but it's not exactly terrific.
posted by JHarris at 1:41 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


io9's take on the same story.

For Fail-o-phobes.
posted by Mezentian at 1:45 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


In just 16 minutes!

Actually ~16.5 hours. Still not days though. If you read Jimbob's link, round trip light time is 33 hours, 16 minutes, 2 seconds.

It takes ~8 minutes for light to reach us from the sun. Voyager 1 is faaaar far away.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 2:05 AM on June 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


You are correct.
16 hours and 38 minutes.
I blame the Liefield Effect for condensing stuff.
posted by Mezentian at 2:08 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I understand it's kinda hard for US Mefites to avoid the Daily Mail. I mean, even as an Australian I understand what "Daily Mail" means, and would go find a new link as soon as I noticed it in the URL. But its crazy ubiquitous blanketing of the internet, combined with Americans not understanding what it is, leads me to forgive. At least the online Daily Mail isn't as crazy fascist as the actual physical paper, I guess.
posted by Jimbob at 2:14 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our rock throwing cavemen ancestors would be proud!
posted by fairmettle at 2:46 AM on June 16, 2012


Please note: Voyager 1, the man-made object furthest from earth, was launched from Florida*.


*Floridian. For any length of time. .
posted by Mike Mongo at 2:53 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


.. And no matter how far away it gets from Earth, it will never be able to escape that stigma.

I keed I keed.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:58 AM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ironically, the greatest of mankind's achievements was shared with Metafilter via the Daily Mail.

WILL WORK-SHY SPACE PROBES GIVE BRITAIN'S PENSIONERS CANCER?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:07 AM on June 16, 2012 [23 favorites]


I think about the vastness of the distances, about the fact that the earth is 8 light minutes from the sun, Voyager's now 16 and a half light hours from it after decades of... voyaging, and the nearest star is more than 4 light years away. Staggering.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 AM on June 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


Like the Eugenics Wars it never happened.

The hell you say. I still remember back in '96 when Khan Noonien Singh and his freaky band of mutant yoga instructors stole the Botany Bay and took off. Of course, that was the last we saw of them, and I'm sure they won't be causing any more trouble now.
What do you mean go and look for them, why on earth would we do that?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:21 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now just what do you think will happen if the Galactic Empire keeps it's monitoring systems just outside the heliosphere watching for that first chunk of metal? Global warming, eco-crash of the oceans. economic meltdown, none of that is what worries me.
posted by sammyo at 4:28 AM on June 16, 2012


Soon, we will have polluted not just our solar system, but all of space!

All of space?

Umm, space is really really big, and Voyager is about the same size as a Mazda
posted by the noob at 4:38 AM on June 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Now just what do you think will happen if the Galactic Empire keeps it's monitoring systems just outside the heliosphere watching for that first chunk of metal?

Voyager will get pulled over by the space cops for exceeding the posted sign limit?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 4:42 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Talez:"Nothing beats a good gravity assist from a particularly massive body."

THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID!
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 4:45 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I blame the Liefield Effect for condensing stuff.

Did you write it on your foot?
posted by tylermoody at 5:03 AM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I read this last night, thought it was neat, and then moved on. But when I tried to go to sleep my mind started processing everything and realized what a truly awesome moment this really is. My mind was reeling thinking about everything Voyager has been through, how far we're actually talking, how incredible it is that it's still working, how fortunate we are to still be in communication with it, and how awesome it must be to be part of the team that designed and launched it THIRTY FIVE YEARS AGO and know it's still kicking ass. I got giddy with excitement in a way I didn't know the middle-aged me still could.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:12 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see this similar thread from a year and a half ago:

Voyager I reaches edge of solar wind

Space fans (and I'm one of 'em) have a bad habit of amorphously defining things as unique/once-in-a-lifetime events.

I understand that the topic needs to be sexed up to get even a smidgen of media attention these days, but it still irks me.
posted by fairmettle at 5:35 AM on June 16, 2012


Mike Mongo: "Please note: Voyager 1, the man-made object furthest from earth, was launched from Florida*."

And it's still running away from there as fast as anything ever had, decades later. Most of us slow down once we get in to Georgia, what did you do to the poor thing?
posted by radwolf76 at 6:34 AM on June 16, 2012 [18 favorites]


Well, it's not like something could happen and it's not going to get there, I guess.



Greetings...
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 6:38 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Boggled by the achievement, really. What was its original useful life projected to be when they launched it? Did its designers really hope to get information back from the interstellar void? Are we still in touch with Voyager 2? Do we have reasonable guesses as to where Pioneer 10 & 11 are?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:03 AM on June 16, 2012


Voyager I exits heliosphere, enters blogosphere.
posted by yoink at 7:04 AM on June 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've gone all nostalgic now, for an era when software was still small enough to be reliable.
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


yay humans!
posted by bondcliff at 7:30 AM on June 16, 2012


@furiousxgeorge

but i thought unmanned was ok though, you can't keep changing it up on a guy like that
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:53 AM on June 16, 2012


I typed my earlier reply in between maps on Ghost Recon, hehe. I meant using the ion engine in addition to the gravity assists. It really is such an ideal engine for unmanned missions going far out there. At least based on current technologies we have actually used in space.

Also I was wrong about the Sun. I guess I should have known that since it is so massive you don't need to get too close to it, but I certainly was unaware Helios 1 and 2 used the Sun for gravity assists.
posted by Phantomx at 8:22 AM on June 16, 2012


So what happens if the helioshphere acts as a barrier to all outgoing signals such as radio waves and what not? Maybe voyager punching out of the heliosphere and broadcasting our position to the rest of the alpha quadrant isn't such a good idea.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:37 AM on June 16, 2012


Didn't Voyager use Jupiter or Saturn as a slingshot? If so, in the grand scheme of things, wouldn't that make Voyager about as fast as a contemporary technology?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:57 AM on June 16, 2012


What was its original useful life projected to be when they launched it?

"The primary mission ended November 20, 1980."
posted by kirkaracha at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2012


If they can monitor our news, aliens will probably conclude that Voyager is another drone sent by Obama to kill their civilians.
posted by msalt at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


They did use planets for gravity assists. Contemporary technology has not changed a great deal. At least as far as what is actually being used. Most deep space missions use conventional rockets to get them into space and up to an initial speed and then use gravitational assists to pick up speed and get where they are going. I mention the ion engine because it can do the same thing except have a constant thrust acting on it from the ion engine. It's a small thrust but added up over time and in conjunction with flybys would probably be the most feasible fast ship with current proven technologies.
posted by Phantomx at 9:09 AM on June 16, 2012


And that's why I'm in tears right now.

For me what tears me up is the nostalgia, the naivete and optimism that we had about science back in those days. Everything was going to keep getting better and better.

I started to explain the story to my wife, she'd never heard of Voyager before. Then I showed her the plaques, and saw that holy shit Carl Sagan was a consultant on their design... and I start showing her some of his videos, and trying to avoid outwardly tearing up but that just makes it worse and anyways I can't really articulate to her why this is all so sad, looking at our friendly picures of a naked man and woman, waving "hi" with a map of where we are from.

"We're from here! Come and visit us!"

It's too late, there won't be anybody here when anyone out there tries to follow up.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:29 AM on June 16, 2012


Sheesh, who brought Debbie Downer to the Star Trek convention after-party?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:51 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'll just leave this right here...

Neil deGrasse Tyson: We Stopped Dreaming
posted by LordSludge at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


I hope we're not alone.
posted by tommasz at 10:06 AM on June 16, 2012


Anyone seeking details of Voyager should read this report (PDF) (HTML view via Google docs preview). It has all the geeky telecom details including full link budgets. They are astonishing: for the X-band (8.415 GHz) downlink (Voyager -> Earth), it looks something like this:

Tx power: 40.9 dBm (≈ 12.3 Watts)
Tx antenna gain: 48.2 dBi (3.66m circular parabolic high gain antenna, beam width 0.5°)
Space loss: -308.2 dB (from 7.273×109 km -- these numbers are for Voyager 2 in 1996)
Rx antenna gain: 73.7 dBi (70m DSS-43 antenna in Canberra, Australia.)

Sum those (with a few other minor losses) to get total Rx power: -145.5 dBm (≈2.82×10-18 Watts)

It's pretty impressive that we can recover a signal from that. How?posted by Rhomboid at 10:13 AM on June 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


*Waves at Voyager, wishes it happy trails.*
posted by Lynsey at 10:22 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a pretty good writeup on the computer hardware, software, design process and team interactions at
http://history.nasa.gov/computers/Ch6-2.html.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sure, may can point out that the Voyager program is from a long ago era when space exploration budgets were as big as America's ambition. But it's an astonishing achievement that not one but both of these crafts completed and exceeded their missions and continue to operate (albeit in a very limited sense of the word). The technology behind Voyager has been bested many times over, but the ethic behind the planning and engineering of the program was in many ways humanity's finest hour. I hope we can keep rekindling that in some small way today.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obligatory West Wing clip about Voyager and Blind Willie Johnson, one of my top ten favorite blues recordings of all time.

Obligatory link to last link in Related Posts below.
posted by y2karl at 10:55 AM on June 16, 2012


Amazing. Truly amazing.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:00 AM on June 16, 2012


Splunge: it would be a device that continues to send signals far longer than Voyager did.

You realize that Voyager is still transmitting right? Hell, they are still getting it to maneuver!

(To be fair, the article also states we're within a few years of it running out of electrical power. I'm irrationally sad about that.)
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:08 AM on June 16, 2012


It's too late, there won't be anybody here when anyone out there tries to follow up.

At the speed that Voyager is traveling it was never a "hey, come visit us" message but rather, at best, a "hey, the people who made this thing many, many, many eons ago used to look like this!" message.
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hello, I'm David McGahan: "Now just what do you think will happen if the Galactic Empire keeps it's monitoring systems just outside the heliosphere watching for that first chunk of metal?

Voyager will get pulled over by the space cops for exceeding the posted sign limit?
"

Are you kidding? More likely it will be ticketed for going too slow. Voyager is the 80 year old blue haired lady going 34 in the passing lane.
posted by Splunge at 12:42 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me what tears me up is the nostalgia, the naivete and optimism that we had about science back in those days. Everything was going to keep getting better and better.

There is no reason to not continue to expect this from science. What has made the world crappier is
1. because it has a legitimate claim on objective truth, important people (of various types) have noticed that science poses a real threat to their power (of various types) and so have been working to undermine it,
2. other people noticing that science doesn't agree with their perconcieved notions about how the world works and concluding the problem must be with science, and
3. the impulse or organizations, corporate, academic or national, to own ideas they sponsor, whether it's in the form of trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets or classified information, at the expense of humanity in general.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on June 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


Burhanistan - very spacefaring nation should be launching interstellar probes regularly.

Which brings up an interesting point. If we had continued to send probes out with any regularity, how long would it be before advances in propulsion technology results in probes overtaking our earliest endeavours?

The probes must be sending back data - if there any way for civilians to "listen in" in real time?
posted by porpoise at 3:48 PM on June 16, 2012


I found this article pretty interesting. From the article:

The Voyagers have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. By that time, Voyager 1 will be 12.4 billion miles (19.9 billion KM) from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion KM) away. Eventually, the Voyagers will pass other stars. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. In some 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will pass 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) from Sirius, the brightest star in the sky . The Voyagers are destined—perhaps eternally—to wander the Milky Way.
posted by Admira at 4:25 PM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tx power: 40.9 dBm (≈ 12.3 Watts)

Let me put this in a way that lets you grasp how amazing it is.

You know your favorite FM station that you can't hear more than 40 miles away ? 100,000 watts.

Hell, your monitor puts out more than 12.3 watts. Imagine trying to see that from ~17 light hours away.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:46 PM on June 16, 2012


i hope our next interstellar craft is the 40 watt club
posted by camdan at 7:06 PM on June 16, 2012


As far as actually getting up there, current rocket technology is not something that is going to improve dramatically
Um, hello

Actually something has been launched from the earth by nuclear weapon. Not intentionally, but during a weapons test a large metal lid was blown off. Analyzing the footage indicated it was moving at 4x the earth's escape velocity, and it was never found. So presumably it went into space and probably much faster then any probe
Dawn's engine with the propellant onboard is good for 10km/s delta-v
You understand that the delta stands for change right? And it should be measured in m/s2 Unlike a gravity assist, you can run an ion Ion thruster as long as you have electricity and some material to ionize. With a nuclear reactor, that could potentially be a long time.

It looks like the most powerful one out there is the VASIMR, which has been tested as a stabilizing engine for the ISS. It can apparently put out 200kW of energy, and about half a Newton of acceleration. (Earth's gravity is about 9.8 newtons). Some experimental Ion thrusters can put out about 60 Newtons, potentially enough to launch from the ground into space.

Anyway, I don't know how much those thrusters weigh but over years and years you should be able to accelerate to pretty high speeds, I would imagine. 60 newtons of force is enough to accelerate 1kg by one m/s every second. If the engine and reactor itself weighed 1,000 tons, you could accelerate to 10% the speed of light in 90 years or so, not accounting for the increased mass caused by the speed itself under relativity.

The closest extra solar planet is 15 light-years away, so at 10% the speed of light, we could potentially get a probe there in 150 years. Although, we would obviously also want to slow it down before it got there...
posted by delmoi at 12:21 AM on June 17, 2012


It can apparently put out 200kW of energy, and about half a Newton of acceleration. (Earth's gravity is about 9.8 newtons). Some experimental Ion thrusters can put out about 60 Newtons, potentially enough to launch from the ground into space.

Easy there, tiger. A newton is a unit of force, not acceleration, and that 9.8 figure is the acceleration due to gravity at sea level and is in metres per second squared, not newtons.

For a 60 newton thruster to achieve takeoff from the ground, it would need to be part of a vehicle with a mass of less than 60N/9.8ms-2 = 6.1kg. Good luck with that.
posted by flabdablet at 2:30 AM on June 17, 2012


You understand that the delta stands for change right? And it should be measured in m/s2

Delta-v is kind of a term of art, and is indeed measured in m/s.
posted by Pyry at 2:44 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no reason to not continue to expect this from science. What has made the world crappier is
1. because it has a legitimate claim on objective truth, important people (of various types) have noticed that science poses a real threat to their power (of various types) and so have been working to undermine it,
2. other people noticing that science doesn't agree with their perconcieved notions about how the world works and concluding the problem must be with science, and
3. the impulse or organizations, corporate, academic or national, to own ideas they sponsor, whether it's in the form of trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets or classified information, at the expense of humanity in general.


You know, I know this feels good to say and all, but it has literally always been thus. It's not like the 1960's were some paragon of enlightenment and the motives of the US space program - as well as the USSR's - were not even remotely pure.

Far more likely than the simple narrative of "people who disagree with me have ruined everything!" is that we're simply running up against the limits of what we can realistically achieve absent some new power source.
posted by downing street memo at 3:02 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Um, hello

Um, hello, indeed.

Sure, there are ideas for the next quantum leap in propulsion, but thus far things haven't changed appreciably from Voyager's day (really, it's still Voyager's day, since the thing is alive). People have some sort of idée fixe that these sorts of things keep improving by leaps and bounds, but while there have been many advances in efficiency and safety, we're pretty much using the same things Goddard was messing around with a century ago. You can always wring a little more thrust or whatnot out of the technology, but it's still ultimately the same technology, just like the internal combustion engine is pretty much still the same.

In terms of the future of, say, human exploration of Mars or colonization of the asteroid belt, there's a lot of potential out there still. And yeah, if we get off-planet launch platforms I'm sure that riding an atomic bomb will be a little more attractive in its own fashion.

But in terms of interstellar voyaging, which is what people seem to be hoping for here, we really need more than just fiddly improvements. We need that quantum leap in technology. We need to accelerate something to 0.1c so it can get to Wolf 359 or Proxima Centauri in a few decades. Currently Voyager is traveling at something less than 0.00000001c. (I think that's the right number of zeros.) Even an improvement of 1000% in the technology is barely feasible to make exploring the Oort Cloud attractive (i.e. getting there in years instead of Voyager's decades). But that's not happening now or anytime soon barring some major breakthrough in a tiny lab off the beaten path.

The only other approach worth considering is something like the generation ship concept -- electronics and mechanical systems that can be relied on for at least a century. Then you can think about sending an uncrewed something to Alpha Centauri with the whole accelerate-to-light-speed, then 180 and slow-back-down profile.

Again, to me, this is all neat to think about, but I just try to be realistic. For my money, while exploration is nice, what we can do is going to be here in the solar system for a long, long time to come. And what we need to do as a civilization is get out there and make ourselves at least multi-planetary, with the eventual goal of being multi-stellar, solely for the survival of the species. That's because I'm tending toward the belief that despite the vastness of possibility in the universe, we may in fact be unique.
posted by dhartung at 3:05 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


And what we need to do as a civilization is get out there and make ourselves at least multi-planetary, with the eventual goal of being multi-stellar, solely for the survival of the species.

I have a pretty fundamental disagreement with this. It seems to me that it has to be easier for "the species" to make a living on its home turf, and that even though figuring out how not to fuck that up is hard, getting significant numbers of us into space is always going to be harder. And the idea that it is somehow OK to (or that we are inevitably going to) shit in our nest to the point where we can't live in it any more strikes me as the worst kind of defeatism.

For my money, while exploration is nice, what we can do is going to be here on Earth for a long, long time to come.

If we can work out ways to stop the sky falling on our heads, though, I'm all for that.
posted by flabdablet at 8:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


sun's going to burn out at some point, we might as well make an effort to put our feet on the ground someplace else.
posted by camdan at 9:23 PM on June 17, 2012


I'm not sure it's worth worrying yet about something that won't begin to happen for 25,000 times as many years as humanity has existed.
posted by flabdablet at 10:51 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, you don't want until the last minute.

It seems to me that it has to be easier for "the species" to make a living on its home turf, and that even though figuring out how not to fuck that up is hard, getting significant numbers of us into space is always going to be harder.

No reason we can't do both.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:20 AM on June 20, 2012


For the record, I'm a lot less worried about the sun going nova than I am about a random asteroid. And, no, I don't believe that saying we need to move to space in case we've already fucked up this planet (had I said that) is the same thing as saying fucking up the planet is OK in the first place. Sheesh.

Insisting that we stay on earth just to make sure we don't fuck it up is an interesting thought experiment, but one that is unlikely to work in real life. In any case, global warming and other aspects of climate change are likely to challenge us in myriad ways during the coming century or two, whether we try to move into space or not. I mean, I have some hope that we can work things out and learn how to operate with the best interests of everyone in mind, a sort of planetary-scale Netherlands, but we just had Rio+20 and, well, it's not terribly promising right now.

Getting back to my perspective, I think that we will be exploring the solar system, and exploiting its resources, just not as soon as the pulp writers of the 40s thought. I'm imbuing this with an imperative above and beyond simple profit or national pride.
posted by dhartung at 3:52 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In any case, global warming and other aspects of climate change are likely to challenge us in myriad ways during the coming century or two...

More like the next five or ten months, if not already, if not five years ago. Unless you are thinking of Two Hundred Fifty Million Year Events like the Permian Extinction -- now, something like that could take a few score years, I suppose, but I am not optimistic -- the cows have been long out of the barn.
posted by y2karl at 1:14 PM on June 23, 2012


I'd like to see that graph adjusted for population density. I mean, I'm sure it'd still be horrible, but their classification of an "event" -- ten or more people killed or 100 or more people affected -- is going to show a spike simply because there's 4 to 5 times as many people to be killed or affected by the time that graph really starts to spike.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:04 PM on June 23, 2012


I'd also like to see it adjusted for all the other out-of-control factors that give it that horrible shape. That way I could stop believing that more and more things are going to shit and just get on with business as usual.
posted by flabdablet at 5:50 PM on June 24, 2012


Alien Pirates, Copyrights to Reach Deep Space
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2012


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