There is some real NASA news today that doesn’t involve a launchpad frog taking one giant leap for frogkind: Voyager 1 has left the solar system.
To give you some idea of how long Voyager 1 has been away from home, it carries “an 8-track tape recorder and computers with 1/240,000th the memory of a low-end iPhone,” according to the New York Times.
Voyager 1 left Earth in 1977, and over the past 36 years has traveled more than 11-and-a-half billion miles from the launchpad, which is the equivalent to traveling to the moon and back nearly 25,000 times.
And there are mixed signals about if, and when, Voyager 1 exited the solar system. Arik Posner, Voyager’s program scientist, warned about celebrating too early in an interview with WNYC last year: “It’s not that clear because there’s no signpost telling you that you’re now leaving the solar system.” But now Posner and others say Voyager 1 did indeed leave the solar sytem — August 25, 2012, to be exact.
Still, @NASAVoyager is making this whole thing confusing:
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) September 12, 2013
But it’s official: “We got there,” mission chief scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology told the AP on Thursday. Stone added that the spacecraft was “setting sail in the cosmic seas between the stars.”
Here’s some more good info from the AP:
While Voyager 1 may have left the solar system as most people understand it, it still has hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years to go before bidding adieu to the last icy bodies that make up our neighborhood.
Voyager 1 will now study exotic particles and other phenomena in a never-before-explored part of the universe littered with ancient star explosions and radio the data back to Earth, where the Voyager team awaits the starship’s discoveries.
The interstellar ambassador also carries a gold-plated disc containing multicultural greetings, songs and photos, just in case it bumps into an intelligent species.
Voyager 1’s odyssey began in 1977 when the spacecraft and its twin, Voyager 2, were launched on a tour of the gas giant planets of the solar system. After beaming back dazzling postcard views of Jupiter’s giant red spot and Saturn’s shimmering rings, Voyager 2 hopscotched to Uranus and Neptune. Meanwhile, Voyager 1 used Saturn as a gravitational slingshot to power itself past Pluto.
Voyager 2 trails behind at 9.5 billion miles from the sun.