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HUMAN LEGACY: VOYAGER 1 & 2

NASA’s twin voyager that flew in 1977 are the sole evidence of the human race beyond the solar system. To this day, the two spacecraft are still traversing the vast outer space to send us scientific information. Launched 44 years ago, Voyager 1 and 2 have proven to be one of the most critical missions humans have ever planned. 

The two spacecraft now hold the records of the longest mission in outer space. They are also currently the only spacecraft that traveled the farthest. With only one antenna called DSS 43, located in Canberra, Australia, roundtrip communication would usually take 35 hours. 17 hours and 35 minutes to send a command, and 17 hours and 35 minutes for the spacecraft to send us data. 

Voyager 1’s discoveries

Voyager 1
Photo from Britannica

Voyager 1 left on September 5, 1977. It was followed by its sister Voyager 2, 16 days later. While traveling in different directions, both Voyagers flew by the giant planets. Voyager 1 first visited Jupiter in 1979 and discovered that one of its moons, Io, had volcanoes erupting in it. The spacecraft observed Saturn in 1980 and found the first presence of nitrogen atmosphere outside Earth, in its moon, Titan. But probably the most important feat the spacecraft has earned was when it breached the interstellar space in August 2012—becoming the first spacecraft to leave the solar system.

Io
Image of Jupiter’s moon Io, taken by Voyager 1. Photo from NASA

It also discovered the complex boundaries between our solar system and interstellar space. 

Voyager 2’s discoveries

voyager 2
Photo of Voyager 2 from New York Times

Voyager 2 also took the scenic route in 1979 when it flew by Jupiter, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986, and Neptune in 1989. However, they weren’t the first spacecraft to ever get closer to the giant planets. Pioneer 10 and 11 were the first to fly by the four planets. Like its twin spacecraft, it also reached interstellar space in December 2018. 

Interstellar space begins where the solar wind ends. It is the vast space between the stars. Both spacecraft have helped scientists understand the boundaries that separate our solar system from the rest of the Milky Way Galaxy. 

Evidence of humanity in space

timeline and location of voyager 1 and 2
Photo from Astronomy Magazine

Voyagers 1 and 2 are farther from each other than either is from Earth. Voyager 1 is about 14 billion miles away from Earth, while Voyager 2 is 11 billion miles. However, Voyager 1, though considered geriatric, is likely to outlive the other spacecraft considering it is the warmest despite being the farthest from the sun. 

By 2027, the two spacecraft will reach their 50th year since their launch. By then, it is predicted that Voyagers 1 and 2 would still be sending information back to Earth even when other spacecraft have already stopped communicating with us. Voyager 1 and 2 are our sole emissaries beyond the solar system, the physical proof of our existence—that we managed to imprint in the vastness of the space.

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