October 3, 2022

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The Voyager 1 probe is 45 years old, a record-breaking mission

It was the first and only spacecraft that looked closely at Uranus and Neptune and then crossed the boundaries of the solar system, dived into interstellar space, and from there continued to send data back to Earth: Voyager 2 is a record-breaking mission that, with 45 years of activity, holds a record Unique in the history of the space age.

Launched on August 20, 1977, it is the longest-lived spacecraft and with its twin Voyager 1, launched 15 days later, it is the champion of a truly unique mission: They both “continue to make surprising discoveries,” said mission chief Susan Dodd of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA.

Outline of goals achieved by the two Voyager missions (Source: NASA, JPL)

In its path through the solar system, Voyager 1 reached historic milestones: in 1979 the salute of Jupiter and its moons; In 1981, she dived into an unknown ring of Saturn and photographed the moon Phoebus. In 1986, the atmosphere of Uranus “smelled”, “listened” to the planet’s magnetic field and discovered some of its moons. Even today, his data is still amazing. E’ for 2016, for example, The discovery of two more moons of Uranus in addition to the 27 already known, it is possible thanks to the data that the probe captured in 1986, during the close passage of the planet.

False color image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979, from a distance of approximately 24,000 km (Source: NASA/JPL)

A race in which the twin probes are constantly being chased and challenged, as Voyager 1 reaches Jupiter and Saturn before its companion, while Voyager 2 was the first to approach Uranus and Neptune, and sent images to Earth more detailed than those distant planets, in 2013 Voyager 1 was also The first to go to interstellar space ; his twin Followed by six years later on November 5, 2018. In 2019, data from Voyager 2 made it possible to discover a hitherto unknown region: the region where the particle winds from the Sun meet the interstellar winds.

If the Voyager probes never stop sending data back to Earth from the extraordinary distances they reached using a technology born in the 1970s, the merit goes to the communications system built by NASA for interplanetary missions, the Deep Space Network. If there were no unexpected events, then the first information about the formation of interstellar dust should also pass in this way. Pushing them off the ground is a plutonium generator.

The two probes are also very special messengers, carrying to interstellar space a communication card for Earth and its inhabitants: a gold-plated disk designed to last over a billion years, containing the sights and sounds of life on our planet, charts of basic scientific laws and greetings in many languages.

Gold-coated disk, Earth’s messenger in interstellar space (Source: NASA, JPL)

“We don’t know how long the mission will last, but – Dodd noted – we are sure they will continue to give us more scientific surprises.”