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Better than Timex watches — the Voyagers

17 September 2012

Better than Timex watches — the Voyagers

“Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” understates what the two Voyager interstellar travelers continue to accomplish. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 each survived the shock of their individual launches in 1977 and simply continue to operate to this day. Think of it, each machine switched on over three decades ago still functioning in their travels.

Voyager 1 — NASA illustration

What other machine can be said to have done the same, without maintenance or tune-up?

There is one I know of and it is a low power light bulb.

Each Voyager has departed our solar system and is approaching the edge of the Sun’s influence (the heliosphere) where there is a transition zone termed the heliopause which is a region where ions streaming from the Sun’s nuclear furnace stall — losing momentum — against the interstellar gases.

Voyagers between the solar system and the heliopause — NASA illustration

Perhaps the interstellar gases also collide from their momentum creating a shock wave, a bow shock, much like a large ocean wave colliding against another ocean wave originating from another point? Voyagers — they will be able to tell us as they will also be able to first measure the width of the heliopause. The first direct measures outside of the solar system — a staggering thought.

Some may say this is so much nonsense but to them I say I recall a day in college astronomy class when one of the Voyagers was returning close-up photos Saturn’s rings. Our text described the ring mechanics but the photos showed the rings were braided, our text excluded that potential. In short, the text was not entirely correct, though most of it was. Yet, it was spectacularly wrong and that is the greatness of science, as more is known more is seen that requires understanding — and the process continues. Amazement is the beginning of science after all is said and done.

Voyager 1’s instrument package — NASA illustration

One must wonder — how next will the Voyagers amaze us?

Seeing how far each Voyager is away from Earth can be viewed here (watch as the kilometers tick away with each heart beat).

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