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After 40 Years, Voyager Spacecraft is Still Collecting Valuable Data

Voyagers 1 and 2 will reach an astounding 40 years of space exploration in August and September. They are now the longest running spacecraft that are still adding to our body of knowledge.

Voyager 2 was the first of the pair to take off on August 30th, 1977. Voyager 1 launched shortly after on September 5th. These spacecraft were built to last, and they took vestiges of Earth with them.

In the rare event that they might be found by some alien race from a far off planet, there will be signs of where we are and what we represent.

But they aren’t just drifting aimlessly through space, with only the vague hope that some other species has reached space-faring intelligence and will find our crafts. They’re working very hard, collecting information and relaying it back to Earth, although the lag time is pretty significant.

Past Accomplishments

Both Voyagers have made some pretty amazing discoveries and set records. In 2012, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space. Interstellar space is the part of space where the sun stops having an impact on particles close to the end of our solar system.

Meanwhile, Voyager 2 has flown by the four outermost planets in our cosmic neighborhood. It gave us the first indications that there were oceans and volcanoes on Jupiter’s moons and found the seas on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, which have an ingredient for potential life.

The further the spacecraft went, the farther we had to reach to hear them. Thanks to some amazing feats of engineering, we can now hear into interstellar space with the Deep Space Network.

This collection of telescopes has made other missions possible. The Apollo missions, the Mars rovers and the Pioneer probes all depended on this network. It also gave rise to the working concept of array antennas like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) as well as several others.

As we use more and more antennas and communications increase, so does harmonic distortion. This noise is a real problem, especially for deep space missions. This is why companies that are certified to work with high-quality power supplies and reduce distortion and dissonance are vital to continuing our exploration of the cosmos.

But neither of the Voyagers were made in a time when “smart computers” existed. They can’t be updated and at this point and can’t be controlled by anyone who doesn’t understand 70’s technology.

Still Making Discoveries

When Voyager 1 made it into interstellar space, it enabled some important discoveries. Interstellar space is much more dangerous than our heliosphere. The sun protects us from some of the incredible levels of radiation found beyond its reach, similar to how our ozone protects us from the sun’s radiation on Earth.

The fact that both of the Voyagers are still operational is an impressive feat. They have had to operate in temperatures as low as -79 degrees Celsius. For perspective, military-grade power supplies must withstand -40 degrees Celsius, which is no simple task.

The Voyager spacecraft will probably have to be turned off around 2030, while we still have the ability to turn them off. After that, they will lose the rest of their power, a whopping 53 years after launch.

Even when their last instruments turn off, they can still survive in space. With practically nothing to slow them down or degrade them, the Voyagers could last millions of years.

They may be nearing the end of their lifespan communicating with Earth, but they will still drift and carry the story of the human race with them.

Written by Kayla Matthews, image via Pixabay

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