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Almost 45 years have passed since the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes left our planet. On September 5, 1977, these spacecraft set off on a journey, showing us the planets and the most distant parts of the solar system. Right now, the Voyager 1 probe is outside the heliopause, the theoretical boundary of the solar system where the solar wind slows down as it mixes with interstellar matter. At some point, both robotic vehicles will fly so far from the Earth that they will have to say goodbye (and scientists are ready for this). In the meantime, the Voyagers continue to fly, NASA engineers receive scientific data from them and remotely repair them. As recently reported by representatives of the space agency.
The original mission of the Voyagers was to study the planets of the solar system and in particular Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 1 sent the first pictures of the gas giants to Earth, and its faithful companion, the Voyager 2 probe, became the first and only apparatus to reach Uranus (in January 1986) and Neptune (in August 1989). To date, both probes are the most distant man-made objects in our star system.
To date, Voyagers are considered one of the most successful space missions in human history. These highly precise and autonomous robots are equipped with scientific instruments for planetary exploration. On board are also power plants, computers, radio communication and control systems, and even rocket engines.
But there is something else interesting and, perhaps, the most important thing in this story: each probe carries a golden plate on which a message is written to the inhabitants of distant worlds. This idea (as in the case of the “Pioneers”) belongs to prominent scientists – Carl Sagan and Francis Drake. Designed to last only five years, they speculated that the Voyagers could fly for hundreds of millions of years before being discovered (if at all).
The golden plates of the Voyagers carry information about life on our planet and its location in the universe. Music, sounds of nature, images and greetings in 55 languages will be able to tell the inhabitants of distant planets about us and what we were.
Goodbye solar system
No matter how special the solar system seems to us, it is unlikely to attract the attention of an outside observer. According to British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, our star and its planets are very ordinary and not much different from billions of other worlds. And although we admire images of black holes and distant galaxies, we know little about our own star system and its boundaries.
Let’s start with the fact that the Voyagers did not leave the solar system. Right now, they are located in the heliosphere, a region filled with plasma erupting from the solar corona (the outer shell of a star whose temperature exceeds 2 million degrees Celsius). Scientists call this region the boundary of the star system, which looks like a huge bubble filled with plasma. The only thing known for certain is the vast distance between Earth and the supposed boundary of the solar system.
Is it any wonder that Voyager probes fail at such distances, because anything can go wrong. So when Voyager 1 sent strange, garbled information back to Earth instead of telemetry data in May of this year , NASA engineers set to work and identified the most likely cause of the failure in just four months.
Voyager 1 malfunction
Since one of Voyager 1’s on-board computers has been running with varying success for many years, this could lead to a change in the way data is sent to Earth. Most likely, the problem was generated during the creation of the device and somehow redirected telemetry data through a faulty on-board computer. Fortunately, the problem is now resolved and the system is restored as if nothing had happened.
Interestingly, it was relatively easy to fix the error, despite the more than 22-hour communication delay. Fortunately, telemetry transmission has been restored, but the specialists have a lot of work ahead of them.
We’re glad telemetry is back. The most likely cause is an erroneous command generated in the past, but it’s not yet possible to talk about this with 100% certainty, ” NASA Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd told reporters.
This also means that Voyager 1 has problems that caused the failure. However, the team is confident that nothing threatens the long-term operation of the spacecraft, and in the very near future, the researchers will conduct a complete diagnosis of all probe systems in order to accurately diagnose the problem and prevent its recurrence. And given 45 years of space travel, Voyager 2 also needs some troubleshooting.
The further fate of the Voyagers
Today, as both Voyagers explore interstellar space, they help humanity observe uncharted territory while continuing to make amazing discoveries. Of course, no one knows how long this space odyssey will last, but the knowledge gained with the help of spacecraft will definitely lead to new discoveries.
Recall that Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012, and since then it has been recording a large amount of data on the solar wind and interstellar space.
However, the day when the devices will stop communicating sooner or later will come, and the robots equipped with gold plates will continue their silent journey through the Universe, which, we hope, will last for billions of years.