Earlier this week, Voyager I, the spacecraft that was launched in 1977 by NASA, was reported to have reached the edge of our solar system. Currently, it’s around 11 billion miles away from the Sun and hurling towards the interstellar space, the Great Unknown, at 130,000 mph.
In the last 33 years, Voyager I visited Jupiter and Saturn, made important discoveries about the Jovian system, and made close encounter with Titan (one of Saturn’s moons). After completing its primary mission, Voyager I turned its camera to take the first ever family portrait of our solar system (which included the the image known as ‘pale blue dot’ that I wrote about last month). Now it has reached a faraway point in our solar system where the solar wind speed has dropped to zero. Weakly grasped by the Sun’s gravitational pulls, and flung by the gravitational fields of the outer planets of our solar system, the probe will continue its ambitious journey towards the other worlds, traversing the vast and mostly empty regions between stars. It will be the first man-made object to leave our solar system.
On this spacecraft lies a message in the form of a phonograph record: the Golden Record. This record contains sounds and images of our planet, intended to communicate our story to extraterrestrials, if it ever encounters one. In that sense, Voyager I is like a bottle with a message, floating in an Ocean. Hoping – against all odds – to find a shore one day!
Among other things, the record contains “115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages.” A baby’s cry, a Peruvian wedding song, whale sounds, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are on that record!
We will be in touch with the probe until around 2025, but after that, it will float into the Great Unknown and sail on for eons without any communication link with us. In that dark, cold and calm interstellar space, there’s almost nothing to erode the spacecraft, so theoretically it will wander around for billions of years.
In such long time-span, human beings would have become extinct, and the Earth would have been burned to ashes by the Sun. But far away from all that, unaffected and untouched, Voyager I will continue to march on, relentlessly carrying the memories of the world that doesn’t exist any more.