Tag Archives: Voyager 2

Voyager: Humanity’s First Interstellar Explorer

21 Jun

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’.

Gravitational Slingshot Effect

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.


Neptune – Seeing Her Clearly

22 Aug

This week marks rather a special one for Neptune, the planetary system has recently celebrated its first birthday since its discovery and shares another anniversary, one since the first close up pictures detailing this world were received. If this was not enough, the planet is in one of the best positions in the night sky in which to view her bewitching phosphorescence.

July 12th of this year marked Neptune’s first birthday since its discovery in September 1846 by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle, this date was exactly 164.79 years, which is one full Neptunian year. Obviously the planet has made many more rotations while in existence but since its official naming and plotting the planet remains a young one in our eyes.

Monday 22nd August, this week, also marks the opportune time in which to gaze upon Neptune as the planet is in what is known as its opposition period, meaning it is exactly in the opposite position to that of the sun. Making the planet both at its closets point at its most bright.

However this only improves the chances of catching a glimpse of the system ever so slightly. Neptune’s distance is so great that its magnitude of 7.8, which is high on the scale of planetary brightness, means it cannot be viewed without aid of binoculars or a telescope.

To those desperate of a glimpse, Neptune can be spotted above the star Iota Aquarii, which is in the Aquarius constellation.

The planets massive orbital route is down to its distance from our sun, the distance of 2.8 billion miles, the amount of space in between causes the planet to drop to temperatures of -220 degrees Celsius.

Just like the other gas giants of our Solar System, Neptune is plagued with storms and electrical surges. Winds on the planet can reach speeds of 1,340 Mph tearing through the rich gas atmosphere. Gases such as hydrogen, helium and predominantly methane control the atmosphere and ultimately give the world its blue, green tinge. The bewitching colour is due to the fact that these gases absorb the red light emitted from the sun then reflects back less fluorescence in the form of blue light.

Neptune, named after the roman god of water and the sea, is the eighth and final planet in our Solar System. At over 30,760 miles wide it is not the biggest but still 17 times the size of Earth.

Much of this information has been collected over the last two decades merited to the NASA led Voyager 2 Space Craft, launched from Florida in the late 1970’s.

On Thursday 25th August, this week, Voyager will celebrate 22 years since sending back its first images of Neptune, enabling scientists to understand its atmosphere, weather patterns and orbital movements.

According to NASA’s scientists they state that the craft could carry on communicating, quietly, until 2025, thats 48 years after its launch.

Without the first observations and innovations of science, Neptune would still be the blurry, blue marble at the foot of the Solar System.