Voyager 1, launched in 1977, becomes the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space.
NASA's LADEE Moon Mission: 5 Goals
(click image for larger view)
Thirty-six years after launch, NASA's Voyager 1 has become the first human-made object to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space. The spacecraft has returned new and unexpected data, giving NASA scientists a glimpse into this alien part of the cosmos.
Comparing the historic event to Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon, Voyager project scientist Ed Stone, based at the California Institute of Technology, described it as "a new era of exploration," during a press conference on Thursday. "What does it mean to reach interstellar space? It's what we had hoped for 40 years ago. This journey is a tribute to individuals responsible for the Voyager mission," Stone said.
For about a year, Voyager 1 has been traveling through plasma, or ionized gas that's present in the space between stars. The spacecraft is in a transitional region outside the solar bubble, experiencing some effects from the Earth's sun. Scientists were able to interpret the Voyager's location by running simulations on supercomputers, which showed plasma jumping from the solar side to the interstellar side during a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields in March 2012. Voyager 1 doesn't have a working plasma sensor, but its plasma wave instrument detected the movement 13 months later in April 2013.
Voyager 1's instruments transmit data to Earth typically at 160 bits per second. The data is then captured by NASA Deep Space Network stations and transmitted to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. A signal from Voyager 1, traveling at the speed of light, takes about 17 hours to reach Earth. The spacecraft travels approximately 1 million miles per day.
"The team's hard work to build durable spacecraft and carefully manage the Voyager spacecraft's limited resources paid off in another first for NASA and humanity," Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, said in a statement. "We expect the fields and particles science instruments on Voyager will continue to send back data through at least 2020. We can't wait to see what the Voyager instruments show us next about deep space."
Voyager 1 and its twin spacecraft, Voyager 2, embarked on their missions in 1977. Both spacecraft flew by Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 also passed by Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 is the longest continuously operated spacecraft, according to NASA. It launched before Voyager 1 and is about 9.5 billion miles away from the sun. Voyager 1 is about 12 billion miles from the sun. The cost of both missions is approximately $988 million through September.
Scientists have yet to see when Voyager 1 will reach the undisturbed part of interstellar space, where there is no influence from the sun. They believe Voyager 2 is not far behind Voyager 1 in crossing into interstellar space.
InformationWeek Elite 100Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
The UC Infrastructure TrapWorries about subpar networks tanking unified communications programs could be valid: Thirty-one percent of respondents have rolled capabilities out to less than 10% of users vs. 21% delivering UC to 76% or more. Is low uptake a result of strained infrastructures delivering poor performance?
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.