The Voyager Mission

The last few posts have been serious and full of opinion.  Time for some fun facts.

In 1977, two spacecraft launched to explore the outer planets of the Solar System.  Since then, they have toured the Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus systems, and are now the farthest man-made objects from Earth.

Now, we stand and watch history being made.  Soon, if not already, Voyager 1 will leave our Solar System and humanity will have achieved something amazing: the sending of a man-made object into inter-stellar space.

This is amazingly significant–we don’t really know what’s beyond the heliopause, the point where the pressure of the solar winds equals the pressure from interstellar space.  Right now, the magnetic instruments on Voyager 1 indicate that we are at that point.  However, since we don’t really know what’s out there, we won’t know when we cross that boundary until after it happens.

So let’s back up a minute.  These spacecraft were launched 35 years ago. Here are some fun facts about Voyager 1 (as of the writing of this post):

It is 17.9 billion kilometers from Earth, which is 119 AU.  This means it takes the light from the sun about 16.5 minutes to get to Voyager (as opposed to about 8 seconds to get to Earth).  Voyager 1 is travelling at approximately 17 km/second relative to the Sun (that’s 38,000 miles per hour).

11,000 workyears have been dedicated to the Voyager missions through the Neptune pass, which is about 1/3 the effort required to build the Great Pyramids.

Carl Sagan tasked Voyager 1 to turn and take a photo of Earth from 6 billion kilometers away.  This is my favorite photo of our home.  It is a reminder that we are on a very, very small island:

Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. Image from

Contained on Voyager 1 is a gold phonograph disk with a variety of information (designed by a committee chaired by Dr. Sagan), intended to serve as a first contact to any alien civilization who might find the probe.  Unfortunately, due to copyright issues over the music, it is difficult to find the contents of the disk.  The disk contains music, children’s laughter, greetings in 55 languages, and a variety of natural sounds.  Dr. Sagan’s book, Murmurs of Earth, is still available out there.

Most of my information came from these two very cool websites:

The Voyager mission might be the pinnacle of human achievement.  It’s certainly up with the greatest.  This mission, coupled with Carl Sagan, brought astronomy to the masses.  Thank you, Dr. Sagan.


About faradaysheadache

Research Geophysicist with the US Geological Survey.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Spaceflight, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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