September 10, 2012
Things “Changing Very Quickly” As Voyager Prepares To Leave Solar System
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The journey of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft towards interstellar space continued over the weekend, and officials with the US space agency continue to monitor the 35-year-old probe's progress as it grows ever closer to becoming the first man-made instrument to ever leave the solar system.
As redOrbit.com's own Lawrence LeBlond reported last week, it is difficult to know when the vehicle, which is currently 11 billion miles from the Sun, will cross the threshold of our solar system, experts have predicted that it is very close.
It is currently travelling at speeds of eight miles per second, and is being closely tailed by its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, which is some 9 billion miles from home, according to Telegraph Science Correspondent Richard Gray.
"It is very exciting right now -- things are changing very quickly at the moment,” Dr. Ed Stone, former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and chief Voyager project scientist, told Gray on Sunday. "This has been a great journey. Voyager has already given us a new view of the solar system and we are continuing to discover a great many new things."
“This is what science is all about -- observing nature in a new way. This is also exploration, so we really don´t know much about what to expect. We don´t know what is in interstellar space because it can´t get inside our solar system," he added. "The first man-made object launched from earth to cross into interstellar space will be a historic moment. It will be a totally new realm and is the latest frontier for the Voyager spacecraft."
Currently, Gray said, Voyager 1 is so far away from the sun that the temperatures are 1/10,000th of those on Earth, and the planet itself is just barely visible from the craft's location. There are 10 individuals monitoring Voyager 1 at any time, he explained, and 20 others who work part time on the data received from the probe.
At this point in its journey, NASA officials can only communicate with the spacecraft via radio, and the messages take approximately 17 hours to travel back and forth between sender and receiver.
Voyager 1 is also carrying technological equipment that was state of the art back in the 1970s, including a computer with less than 100,000th the amount of memory of an 8 gb iPod Nano, and an eight-track tape recorder.
"Scientists, attempting to preserve power, shut off Voyager 1´s camera after it passed Neptune in 1989," LeBlond said. "The spacecraft, if it continues to function normally, will start shutting down other onboard instruments after 2020 to further preserve power. If all goes as planned, Voyagers 1 and 2 should continue to race through the cosmos for another 13 years before exhausting their power supply."