“Even in hindsight, I would not change one whit of the Voyager experience. Dreams and sweat carried it off. But most of all, its legacy makes us all Earth travelers among the stars.” Charles Kohlhase, Voyager Mission Analysis Engineer
For the last 33 years, the twin Voyager spacecraft have been exploring the edges of the solar system. Since 1998, it is the most distant man-made object from earth, and continues to be one of the most prolific sources of planetary data for NASA. The mission continues to be a leader in science and science data. Per the crafts’ approximate 2011 locations, ground signals traveling at the speed of light take about 13 hours one way to reach Voyager 2, and 16 hours one way to reach Voyager 1.
Voyager’s final mission is to study the heliopause, the boundary at which the solar wind transitions into the interstellar medium. Scientists expect that Voyager 1 will cross the heliopause sometime between 2012-2015, continuing to truly push the boundaries of the known universe.
Some of Voyager’s key scientific efforts:
- Imaging Science System: utilizes a two-camera system (narrow-angle/wide-angle) to provide imagery of Jupiter, Saturn and other objects
- Radio Science System: utilizes the telecommunications system of the Voyager spacecraft to determine the physical properties of planets and satellites and the amount and size distribution of material in Saturn’s rings and the ring dimensions.
- Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer: investigates both global and local energy balance and atmospheric composition.
- Ultraviolet Spectrometer: designed to measure atmospheric properties and radiation
- Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer: designed to investigate the magnetic fields of Jupiter and Saturn, the solar-wind interaction with the magnetospheres of these planets, and the interplanetary magnetic field out to the solar wind boundary with the interstellar magnetic field and beyond
- Plasma Spectrometer: investigates the macroscopic properties of the plasma ions and measures electrons
- Low Energy Charged Particle Instrument: measures the differential in energy fluxes and angular distributions of ions, electrons and the differential in energy ion composition.
- Cosmic Ray System: determines the origin and acceleration process, life history, and dynamic contribution of interstellar cosmic rays, the nucleosynthesis of elements in cosmic-ray sources, the behavior of cosmic rays in the interplanetary medium, and the trapped planetary energetic-particle environment.
- Planetary Radio Astronomy: utilizes a sweep-frequency radio receiver to study the radio-emission signals from Jupiter and Saturn
- Photo Polarimeter: utilizes a telescope with a polarizer to gather information on surface texture and composition of Jupiter and Saturn and information on atmospheric scattering properties and density for both planets
- Plasma Wave System: provides continuous, sheath-independent measurements of the electron-density profiles at Jupiter and Saturn as well as basic information on local wave-particle interaction, useful in studying the magnetospheres
Data: Where to find some of the data Voyager is sending back through JPL’s Deep Space Network
Data summaries at the Virtual Space Physics Observatory http://vspo.gsfc.nasa.gov/websearch/dispatcher
Overview of available data at National Space Science Data Center http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/voyager.html
Voyager 1 and 2 data at http://cohoweb.gsfc.nasa.gov/
Heliospheric trajectories at http://cohoweb.gsfc.nasa.gov/helios/
Plasma wave data at http://www-pw.physics.uiowa.edu/plasma-wave/voyager/home.html
Low Energy Charged Particles Data at http://sd-www.jhuapl.edu/VOYAGER/#data
The Golden Record: REALLY Open Data
Both Voyager spacecraft carry recorded messages from Earth on golden phonograph records – 12-inch, gold-plated copper disks. A committee chaired by the late astronomer Carl Sagan selected the contents of the records for NASA. The records are cultural time capsules that the Voyagers carry with them to other star systems. They contain images and natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages and musical selections from different cultures and eras.
What would you put on a new golden record? Share your thoughts at http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/voyager-goldenrecord/posts/post_1187299526389.html
The Voyager team has also been incredibly committed to doing student outreach to celebrate “humanity’s furthest journey” and invite students to connect with the team and the science behind the mission. Wonder what kind of questions the students had about Voyager? Check out their questions and the NASA Voyager team’s answers here: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/news/april_28_questions.html
[caption id=”attachment_3403” align=”aligncenter” width=”453” caption=”One of the most famous images returned from Voyager 1 is the Pale Blue Dot, showing Earth as the “pale blue dot” on the right center of the image.”][/caption]
To learn more about the Voyager mission, check out [http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/index.htm]l.