Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What A Long Strange Trip

Ladies and gentlemen, Voyager 2 has left the building. Or, more to the point, the solar system. Our little probe has now made its way more than seven billion miles from the sun, and still going strong. Launched way back in August of 1977, Voyager 2 managed to stop by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This is a pretty keen trick when you consider how much space exists between those planets, and the trajectory had to be timed so that they would all be in a rough line. That's a lot of math.
It was way back in 1979 when Voyager 2 passed Jupiter. I was in high school. In 1981, it passed Saturn while I began my career at Arby's. Five years later, there was a Uranus flyby. That was the year I graduated, at last, from college. 1989 brought Voyager 2 to Neptune. I was working in a video store. Keeping the planetary streak alive was more a matter of debate than engineering, when Pluto was reclassified a "dwarf planet" and was therefore off the list of hot-spots to visit on the way out of the solar system.
Now Voyager 2 is leaving home, with another fifteen to twenty years of faithful service. Most of what we're learning from it today is about the shape of the heliosphere, which turns out to be flat on the bottom. Then it's off into the stars. Voyager 2 is not headed toward any particular star. It will pass by the star Sirius at a distance of 1.32 parsecs (4.3 light years, 25 trillion miles) in about 296,000 years. Both Voyagers carry gold records, with greetings from Jimmy Carter, with tunes from Back and Chuck Berry. Carl Sagan, who helped compile the music and sounds for the record, had originally asked for permission to include "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles' album Abbey Road. While the Beatles favoured it, EMI opposed it and the song was not included. You can't get the Beatles on iTunes. Why should you be able to get them on Sirius?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said probe.