Voyager 2 Turns 35
Space Craft Voyager 2 Turns 35 Today
Voyager 2, the only probe to visit Uranus and Neptune and the longest-running NASA project to date, celebrates its birthday today. The probe was launched on August 20, 1977 with a mission of exploring the furthest reaches of the solar system and beyond. That mission has been accomplished, and scientists eagerly await news that the probe has finally broken free of the heliosphere and exited the solar system.
Voyager 2 was launched, paradoxically, sixteen days before its twin, Voyager 1, although Voyager 1 is traveling faster and is further out by this point. The two probes have made numerous discoveries and observations since launch, including the giant hexagon on Saturn, the volcanoes of Io, the hazy atmosphere of Titan which may have the building blocks of life, and the oddly tipped magnetic poles of Uranus and Neptune.
Voyager 2 is currently about 9 billion miles away from the sun and heading in a southerly direction (from the sun’s perspective), while its twin is another 2 billion miles away heading north. Voyager 1‘s last image sent to Earth was the famous “family portrait” photo, showing Earth as what Carl Sagan referred to as a “pale blue dot.”
Both Voyager spacecrafts carry a copy of a golden record containing information on Earth’s location, as well as messages from many countries, selections of music from many times and cultures, and pictures and sounds demonstrating life on Earth, human and otherwise. These records are meant to be discovered by any spacefaring species outside the solar system, although the chances are small of that actually happening. Sagan stated that the inclusion of the records was more a symbol of “something very hopeful about life on this planet.”
Voyager’s batteries are holding strong, and while their use has to be strictly rationed, they are expected to last until at least 2020. The probes are maintaining contact with Earth, and hopefully we will soon find that they have exited the solar system to begin their eternal journey through interstellar space, perhaps one day as ambassadors to other intelligent species.
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