Monday, March 4, 2024

Voyager 1: The Interstellar Pioneer – Journey Beyond the Solar System

Written By M C Yashaswini (Grade 10)


A silent explorer named Voyager was launched by NASA, four decades ago and was a mission to unveil the secrets of celestial space by capturing explicit images and indispensable data along the way of humans. In an unrivalled feat of human achievement, Voyager 1 ventured bounded into the realms of celestial space becoming a symbol of curiosity and idiosyncrasy. It was launched in 1977 as a part of the Voyager program. Voyager 1 is now billions of miles away from our planet making it the farthest human-made mission till now, it has propelled into uncharted territory of other solar systems still giving signals to Earth. Let’s delve into a mind-boggling story of Voyager 1 an interstellar pioneer that can change the understanding of the universe.

Voyager 1 began its voyage on 5th September 1977, alongside its twin Voyager 2. It’s been almost 45 years since it left Earth. The discussion of the project to launch probes to neighboring planets began in the late 1960s, and 1972 engineers announced a three-axis stabilized spacecraft that uses an orientation control system based on astronomical coordinates or a gyroscope to maintain the direction of high-gain antennas towards Earth. The command computer subsystem [CSS] provides sequencing and control functions while the altitude and articulation control subsystem[ACCS] controls the spacecraft’s orientation, maintains an antenna pointing towards the earth and controls orientation manoeuvres to uplink communication through the s-band command transmission rate of 16bits/sec. The X spend transmitter provides Telemetry downlink at a rate of 160 bits/sec in the normal mode and 1.4 kilobits/sec for reproducing high-speed plasma wave data. Electricity is generated by 3 radioisotope thermoelectric generators [RTGs]. Current power levels are approximately 249 watts. This is one of the most complex mechanisms of humans.

It’s first stop? The mighty gas giant, Jupiter, with its raging storms and mysterious Great Red Spot. On March 5, 1979, Voyager 1 did a close fly, giving us incredible images and loads of data of Jupiter. But Voyager 1’s adventure didn’t stop at Jupiter. It showed scientists the first act of volcanoes beyond Earth, it also observed the first lightning bolt beyond Earth in the atmosphere of Jupiter. At the moon Titan of Jupiter it revealed that it had the first earth-like atmosphere which was rich in nitrogen and possibilities of liquid methane and ethane to exist. It kept cruising through space, making its way to the magnificent Saturn. On November 12, 1980, Voyager 1 reached Saturn, the planet famous for its stunning rings. It sent back mind-blowing pictures of Saturn’s rings, unveiling their intricate structure, and even found a bunch of new moons hanging around.
After Saturn, Voyager 1 didn’t head back home. Nope, it charted a new course. This was the start of the Voyager Interstellar Mission. It travelled around 4 billion miles where it took a final image as part of the mission, the portrait of the solar system. The cameras of the satellite were turned off to conserve the power of its computer.
The plan? Go past the edge of our solar system, into interstellar space, and explore what’s out there. August 25, 2012, it marked a historic moment. It became the first human-made object to cross the heliopause, leaving our solar system behind. The change was confirmed by a drop in

solar particles and a shoot in cosmic rays. It had ventured into interstellar space. Voyager 1 isn’t just a scientific explorer; it’s a messenger for humanity. It carries a Golden Record, kind of like a time capsule filled with sights and sounds from Earth. It’s our way of saying hello to any potential aliens who might bump into it someday.

In 2013 Voyager 1 recorded a sound from the space environment, a unique sound caused by a solar kernel mass ejection. The wave that reached the probe caused vibrations in its surroundings which had a new non-heliospheric density. It was almost 40 times higher than the previously measured high pitch tone of the signal which became the final confirmation of the spacecraft’s entry into a new space territory.

However, in early 2022, the veteran of space exploration found itself in a confusing situation in space as it began sending distorted telemetry data without signalling any alarms or malfunctions. This became a puzzle for the team of experts.
As it continues its silent voyage through the cosmos, Voyager 1 remains a symbol of human achievement and a beacon of hope for the future of space exploration. Its legacy inspires us to reach for the stars, knowing that the universe is vast and full of wonders waiting to be uncovered by future generations of explorers. This mission reminds us of the boundless curiosity that drives humans to explore and discover. Voyager 1’s story serves as a story of curiosity, to learn more about our place in the universe, and to send a message of peace and friendship to the stars.


Featured Image Courtesy – NASA Blogs



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