Interstellar space travel has only ever existed in the science fiction works of the past. Films, television and books appear to make emigrating to a new sun seem effortless and trouble free. The reality is that in order to cover these distances you need enormous amounts of energy or a copious amount of time. It is the latter that seems more realistic to us humans and the instruments of exploration we develop.
One such craft appears to be nearing this feat and is to become the first known object to traverse the stars. NASA’s Voyager twin spacecraft have been travelling through our solar system for decades now and they are approaching the final frontier and near conclusion to their epic mission. Launched in 1977 Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 took advantage of the intricate clockwork of our solar system by aiming to capture Jupiter and Saturn as they aligned in what was dubbed ‘The Grand Tour’.
Voyager 2 seized the opportunity of planetary configuration by flying onwards to Uranus and Neptune as it followed its twin sister out into the Universe. NASA scientists used a ‘gravitational slingshot’ effect allowing both spacecraft to fly in between the planets and hurl them outwards saving energy. Voyager 1 passed Jupiter just two years after launch in 1979 and Saturn, along with her moons, the following year. Voyager 1 is now some 10.8 Billion miles away from home, with Voyager 2 some 2 Billion miles behind, both hurtling towards the edge of our solar system and into the scary yonder of interstellar space.
The craft is approaching the edge of what is known as the Heliosphere, this is a ‘bubble’ around our star where charged particles are flung out into space by the Sun and its solar winds. Any day now Voyager 1 will start to detect a rapid increase in the amount of charged particles it has already encountered as it detects stars that have exploded in the past.
More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five per cent in a week and nine percent in a month. Says Project Manager, JPL – Ed Stone.
Charged particles fill the Universe between the stars streaming radiation far and wide. Voyager will negotiate this wilderness en route to Proxima Centauri, our local neighbouring star. Unfortunately it would take Voyager 76,000 years to get there but we can still be proud a human built craft is travelling between the stars.
Voyager 1 is a true pioneer in space travel, its time in the cosmos has lasted 35 years and is sure to continue until 2025 when the spacecrafts’s plutonium core propulsion system expires. On board the machine is a gold disc containing images and sounds of Earth along with drawings of human beings in the hope a distant civilization will discover them and learn about our fascinating species.
- Voyager 1 Detecting Interstellar wind (nextbigfuture.com)
- Voyager 1 is about to become humanity’s first interstellar explorer (dvice.com)