Voyager 1 Is Back! Legendary Probe Makes Contact from Interstellar Space
2:31:46 2024-06-18 172

A friendly voice we've been longing to hear is drifting back to us from interstellar space, 24 billion kilometers away (15 billion miles).

 Voyager 1– the most distant human-made object to Earth – is, once again, sounding like itself on the deep space radio network, after half  a year of spewing gobbledgegook.

Scientists at NASA are elated.

"We're back, baby!" reads an X post from NASA on June 15.

"Our Voyager 1 spacecraft is conducting normal science operations for the first time since November 2023. All four instruments – which study plasma waves, magnetic fields, and particles – are returning usable science data."

It's the first time in many months that the 46-year-old probe can share all that it's probing on the near-freezing borderlands of our Solar System, outside the influence of our Sun.

In November of 2023, Voyager 1 suddenly started sending back random readouts that didn't make any sense to scientists.

The issue seemed to stem from a small, corrupted chip in the probe's onboard memory system, possibly caused by old age, or maybe triggered by energetic particles in interstellar space.

Because the technology on board Voyager 1 is so outdated, engineers at NASA had to consult manuals from the 1970s to try and get around the problem.

On May 19, the team at NASA succeeded in getting two of the four science instruments on board Voyager 1 to return readable data back to Earth.

"Kinda like when your power goes out and you have to go around your whole house resetting all your electronics… That's basically what my team and I are doing now," explained an official account for Voyager 1 on X.

Now, all four science instruments on board the deep space probe can return usable data to our planet once again.

Voyager 1 and its sibling, Voyager 2, are exploring a region of space never directly encountered by a human-made object before, so missing out on any data is quite the letdown.

These probes are the only way scientists can directly study the interstellar medium, and their measurements have already revealed important details  about how our Solar System is shaped and how far the Sun's 'solar bubble' extends.

While the Voyager space probes are often said to have 'left our Solar System,' they have only exited the heliopause and are yet to make it to the hypothesized Oort cloud, which is thought to be the outermost zone of our gravitationally bound system.

Sadly, both Voyagers will never make it to the icy edge in working order, as their generators on board steadily continue to lose power. At its current speed, experts at NASA predict Voyager 1 will take three centuries to reach the Oort cloud. To get to the other side of the cloud would take another 30,000 years.

Engineers predict Voyager 1 will have at least one instrument still going by 2025, and it could continue talking on NASA's Deep Space Network through 2036. It all depends on how much power the probe has left by that time.

In the last few years, Voyager 1 has shown signs of aging. Apart from this most recent event, in 2022, a broken computer onboard began corrupting outgoing messages. The problem was ultimately fixed, but it took several days. Even traveling at the speed of light, radio messages from the probe take approximately 22.5 hours to return to Earth.

A team at NASA is now working on maintenance to do with Voyager 1's digital tape recorder. This memory system only records 48 seconds of high rate data three times a week from the plasma wave instrument on board.

This means that when Voyager 1 loses its ability to communicate properly, all its other information is lost.

Who knows what we missed the last six months?

 

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