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Voyager 1 Passes 100 AU from the Sun 326

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the they-don't-build-em-like-they-used-to dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday, Voyager 1 passed 100 astronomical units from the sun as it continues operating after nearly 30 years in space. That is about 15 billion kilometers or 9.3 billion miles as it travels about 1 million miles per day. Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space."
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Voyager 1 Passes 100 AU from the Sun

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  • Poor V-ger (Score:5, Funny)

    by Recovering Hater (833107) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:31PM (#15922315)
    I wonder how long until it comes back carrying half the solar system with it looking for it's maker?
  • by Mc_Anthony (181237) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:32PM (#15922324)
    How many more AUs to scientists think Voyager still has to travel before it reaches the edge, or do we not have a good estimation of that distance?

    If I'm a space science noob does that make me a "Universal Noob"?
    • To the best of my knowledge, friend, there is more than one definition of "edge".

      There's the magnetopause, where the magnetic influence of other stars predominates that of our own... to my knowledge, both Vger's are beyond this point.

      There's the heliopause, where the outward flow of solar gases finally doesn't have enough pressure to overcome whatever's coming its way... to my knowledge, neither Vger has hit this point yet.

      And considering that both Vgers were both launched basically along the ecliptic, neither one is likely to be headed towards the closest heliographic star, which is in the Southern hemisphere (Terran, not ecliptical; but if something's never north of one, it's probably never north of the other.) Neither is the shape of either 'pause likely to be spherical; they would depend upon the distances, relative magnetic field strength, and relative gaseous flux of every star around us.

      Finding these things out, in some small way, is one reason I'm very glad the Voyager spacecraft have lasted so long beyond their design dates.

  • by HaloZero (610207) <<protodeka> <at> <gmail.com>> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:32PM (#15922327) Homepage
    I recall some time ago reading that the total-return-time for an ICMP_ECHO_RESPONSE from voyager 1 was something in the scale of 29 minutes. I'm hoping we're still getting useful data from these devices.
  • Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space.

    What else could it possibly "find"?
  • Voyager 1 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thatguywhoiam (524290) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:36PM (#15922372)
    .. has to be one of the best things we (humankind) have ever made. Just in terms of sheer engineering prowess.

    If you are like me and love reading about Voyager 1 stuff, here's a great blog post with tons of linked info on the Golden Record, the philosophy behind the probe, who worked on it, that sort of thing.

  • Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by colonslashslash (762464) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:37PM (#15922376) Homepage
    As the article points out, it is pretty amazing that this vehicle has travelled so far... 9.3 billion miles is an insane distance alone, but through the hazards of space - 30 years of asteroids, comets, uber death wave radiation and Borg, it's even more astonishing.


    Kudos JPL.

  • by John Miles (108215) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:41PM (#15922424) Homepage Journal
    This is a good place to mention Luis Cupido's web site [ist.utl.pt]. He's actually managed to pick up the Voyager 1 signal on a 5.6-meter dish, using a lot of DSP-fu and maybe -- you be the judge -- a bit of wishful thinking.

    A fascinating, if somewhat slow-loading, page.
    • A fascinating, if somewhat slow-loading, page

      Fascinating that he was able to use Voyager 1 to host his site...
    • by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:31PM (#15922842) Homepage Journal
      Voyager 1 is 100 AU away. 2003 UB313 [caltech.edu] is 97 AU and Sedna [caltech.edu] is only 90 AU away. Thus, Voyager 1 is further out than the furthest positively-identified objects in the solar system and is getting close to a theorized inner Oort cloud. I'm sure that I read that it has passed the heliopause - a shockwave that marks the end of the solar winds and the start of the interstellar wind, which would mean that the outermost planet of the solar system is outside the heliosphere. Of all the planets (and plutons) in the solar system, it alone will never feel a single breath of the solar wind.


      If, as seems possible, this amateur radio astronomer can detect signals from Voyager 1, it may also be possible for amateur radio astronomers to detect the presence of very faint signals coming from the furthest objects in the solar system, as the iron within them cuts through the charged particle stream of the interstellar winds, which is all you need to generate a radio wave.

  • by SQLGuru (980662) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:43PM (#15922440) Journal

    The Voyagers owe their longevity to their nuclear power sources, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators, provided by the Department of Energy


    30 years without changing the batteries *AND* 30 years without exploding. Can I get one of those?

    Layne
  • Well, yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:44PM (#15922452) Homepage Journal

    Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space."

    The alternative is for the Sun to pull it back.

    To sail on a dream through eternal nighttime of space To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm To work in the service of life and the living In search of the answers to questions unknown To be part of the movement and part of the growing Part of beginning to understand

    Aye, Voyager, the places you've been to The things that you've shown us The stories you tell Aye, Voyager, I sing to your spirit The men who have served you So long and so well

    a tip of the prop to the late John Denver

  • Interstellar 3.0 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:49PM (#15922494)
    The point is, the two Voyagers are the last of the first generation of robotic interstellar spacecraft. Interstellar 2.0 will use ion drive, nuclear electric, solar sails, magnetic sails, and other exotic propulsion technologies. Interstellar 3.0 will get useful paylods to other planetary systems, within the lifetime of some slashdot readers. Cost? Less than the Shuttle/Space Station welfare system. Payoff? Priceless! Starflight without Warp Drive [magicdragon.com] Hydrogen Ice Spacecraft for Robotic Interstellar Flight [magicdragon.com]
  • by Lazbien (788979) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:49PM (#15922499)
    The article states that Voyager 1 is using radioisotope thermoelectric generators to power the flight... not knowing what these were, I went to Wikipedia, which told me that they were used to generate a few hundred watts or less, and seem to get hot. My question from this is the application in to on-Earth areas. For instance, why aren't radioisotope thermoelectric generators used in Data Centers? Or Factories? Or Office Towers? Or on farms? Can't we take a few hundred of these, bury them in a sub-basement, and start generating our own power? I want my space age power, damnit. Any rocket scientists out there know the cost of one of these suckers?
    • reasons..

      1) cost
      2) insulation (from radiation/heat)
      and chiefly 3) NIMBY crowd and ecolo-weenies
    • by russ1337 (938915) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:59PM (#15922576)
      generate a few hundred watts or less, and seem to get hot
      they use them in Macbooks and Dell computers - and a whole bunch of them just go recalled.
    • These RTG generators are compact, robust, and long-lived. However, they are not cheap, do not deliver huge quantities of power, decay slowly over time, do not respond to peak load requirements, and are not really efficient. (They use raw heat from radioactive decay, and thermoelectric conversion.)

      On Earth, we can pile up a large amount of radioactive material to cause a controlled chain reaction. We can then convert it on an industrial scale to AC electric power for distribution over many miles. You may hav
    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:00PM (#15922594) Homepage Journal
      Umm... Read more fellow. They use Plutonium... They are radioactive and could be used to make at least a dirty bomb if not an outright fission device.
      They uses some in the old Soviet Union at some remote sites but they used Strontium 90 which while it will still kill you can not be used to make fission devices.

      Not something I would want in my basment but dang handy in space and maybe some remote applications like ocean monitoring or even antarctica.
    • The heat source is decaying radioactive waste, typically not something you want around people. They put them on spacecrafts because there's little danger of someone else getting hit by the radiation as the device operates. Putting them on the Earth would require extensive shielding, and turn every data center into a potential terrorist dirty bomb target.
    • well...the "Fear" of anything nuclear (it's funny how all those environmentalists bitch and moan about a few kilograms of uranium when many tons of it was released into the atmosphere due to coal power plants (ref: http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text / colmain.html [ornl.gov])

      By the year 2040, the prediction/projected cumulative amounts released by coal burning plants is
      U.S. release (from combustion of 111,716 million tons):
      Uranium: 145,230 tons (containing 1031 tons of uranium-235)
      Thorium: 357,491 tons

      Wo
      • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:15PM (#15923103)
        well...the "Fear" of anything nuclear (it's funny how all those environmentalists bitch and moan about a few kilograms of uranium when many tons of it was released into the atmosphere due to coal power plants

        You've just shown that you have no understanding of this issue. For example: your 145,000 tons of uranium is an isotope with a half-life of about 4 billion years. (The small amount of U235 has a half life of 700 million years, and doesn't change the overall total much.) Thorium is similar: it has a half-life of 14 billion years.

        An RTG is filled with plutonium 238, which has a half life of 88 years, so it decays about 49 million times as fast as U238. So the total radioactivity of all that coal-based uranium is similar to that of 3 kilograms of Pu238, which is only enough fuel to provide a few kilowatts of RTG power. So it's no wonder environmentalists bitch and moan about a few kilograms of material: that few kilograms is about as radioactive as the total annual emissions of the entire coal industry.

        So bottom line, to provide their electrical energy from RTGs, each household would need to manage an amount of radioactivity which is a significant fraction of the grand total emitted by all US coal burning plants. Coal plant heavy metal emissions are dangerous, but mainly because heavy metals are toxic chemicals, not because of radioactivity.

        A more practical problem is the fact that Pu238 is outrageously hard to collect and there are only a few kilograms in existence worldwide. Other kinds of radioactive waste isn't generally hot enough to create a useful amount of work; otherwise, they would have left it in the reactor longer to generate more power.

  • by cecom (698048) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:59PM (#15922575) Homepage Journal
    I wonder whether there are plans for launching a new, more powerful, more sophisticated aircraft with the same purpose. After 30 years of progress we should be able to do much better, shouldn't we ? (To be honest I suspect that modern technology is less reliable than 30 years ago - the complexity is killer - but still we have to try)

    Couldn't there be a very low power engine of some kind, just enough to provide a minimal thrust for, lets say, a decade. You don't need a lot of thrust in vacuum. Even small but constant acceleration should be sufficient to eventually achieve very high speed and perhaps even outrun the older spacecraft.
    • Just come up with a drug, abortion, porn, or terrorism angle, and the funding is yours. For the next few months, anyway.

      -b
    • Couldn't there be a very low power engine of some kind, just enough to provide a minimal thrust for, lets say, a decade. You don't need a lot of thrust in vacuum. Even small but constant acceleration should be sufficient to eventually achieve very high speed and perhaps even outrun the older spacecraft.

      If getting from A to B as fast as possible is your goal, you want to get as much of your acceleration done as fast as possible. For example, at the race track, it's better to be going 1MPH faster exiting

    • by RsG (809189) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:53PM (#15922961)
      Technology has improved a great deal in the last thirty years. Unfortunately, some of the constraints on deep space exploration are physical, rather than engineering problems.

      The limit with any engine, high or low thrust, is fuel. Essentially, any reaction drive that carries fuel with it will eventually run out (whether it's making ten Gs of acceleration over a few seconds, or .0001 G over a matter of years). You get more milage per mass of fuel as you increase the exhaust velocity (the speed of the exhaust relative to the craft), but then you're up against power requirements - it takes more and more energy to accelerate the reaction mass to higher and higher speeds. That power has to come from somewhere, and any generator system will increase the overall mass of the spacecraft, decreasing the acceleration.

      Combining an ion drive with, say, solar panels will work wonders in the inner solar system, since you're getting your power for free, and firing off your fuel in small quantities at extremely high speed. In the outer system though, solar power isn't an option and radiothermic generators (RTGs) like those used on voyager are heavy, at least relative to their power output. Most other power technology we have available today would add fuel and/or maintainance constraints. RTGs and solar panals are used for precisely those reasons - because they have neither signifigant fuel limitations nor many moving parts to break down.

      Plus, the engines themselves will undoubtably have a limited working lifetime - extending that lifetime to operate for years or decades will involved increasing the mass of the engine, which kinda puts you back at square one.

      Something like a light sail would work better (over long distances the lower thrust is offset by the lack of fuel requirements), but that's still more in the realm of science fiction. Nuclear drive technology could also fill the gap, but the political constraints involved in putting anything fission based in orbit are huge, and we won't have fusion for decades at least (longer, if you factor in the need for miniaturization).
  • by man_ls (248470) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:04PM (#15922631)
    Is Voyager 1 providing any useful information any more, besides the becon signal and trajectory information? Wasn't there a Voyager 2?

    I'm curious what's failed on the probe so far. After 30 years, something has to have died.
    • by Oliver Defacszio (550941) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:14PM (#15922707)
      Damned near everything is dead, and it's sending back only the most basic scientific information to conserve energy levels that are already well beyond their expected date of exhaustion. I read an article not long ago (that I can't be bothered to find again) stating that only a small percentage of its original devices of science have worked at all since the 80s.

      Long story short -- at this point, she's basically running flat out to see how far she can go while running on fumes. The same article stated that the new projection of its fuel exhaustion is roughly 2020.
      • Well, I guess that's something, seeing how far we can do and what happens when we get past our solar system.

        They should really send some more, newer, faster probes out to hopefully cover that distance in less time with more available power.
      • by Zarhan (415465) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:44PM (#15922909)
        Damned near everything is dead, and it's sending back only the most basic scientific information to conserve energy levels that are already well beyond their expected date of exhaustion.

            Umm, no.

        I read an article not long ago (that I can't be bothered to find again) stating that only a small percentage of its original devices of science have worked at all since the 80s.

            The Scan platform was turned off in the early 21st century. That's when cameras were turned off to save power.

            See http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/science/thirty.html [nasa.gov] and scroll to the end of the page.

        VOYAGER 1

        1998 DOY 316 - Reduction in Scan Platform power - preserve UVS and Elevation Actuator temperature (+11.0 W)

                * WA Vidicon Heater OFF (+5.5 W)
                * NA Vidicon Heater OFF (+5.5 W)

        2002 - Terminate UVS operations - turn-off all Scan Platform loads (43.9 W). Date expected to change.

                * WA Electronics Replacement Heater OFF (+10.5 W)
                * IRIS Replacement Heater OFF (+7.8 W)
                * NA Electonics Replacement Heater OFF (+10.5 W)
                * Azimuth Actuator Supplemental Heater OFF (+3.5 W)
                * UVS Power OFF (+2.4 W)
                * UVS Replacement Heater OFF (+2.4 W)
                * Azimuth Coil Heater OFF (+4.4 W)
                * Scan platform slewing power OFF (+2.4 W)

            So, until 2002, V1 was used for searching UV sources among the stars, among other things. However, that doesn't tell much, since most of the work is done with particle, plasma and wave detectors and those will be working well into the 2020's.
  • Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space.
    The IAU just have to have a meeting and define interstellar space to start at 100 AU and the problem is solved.
  • by aJester (954798) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:17PM (#15922733)
    This is probably a dumb question. But here goes.

    How is it that Voyager (and other probes) is able to avoid crashing into obstacles (eg: asteroids, commets, planets etc)?

    Do they have some kind of navigation system that can sense an object coming towards it and alter its course?

    One would think that in 30 years and so many billion miles, it must be *VERY* lucky to have avoided any obstacles in its path?

    Can anyone explain?
    • by Svenne (117693) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:30PM (#15922833) Homepage
      Space is big. Really big.
    • by Bob of Dole (453013) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:32PM (#15922845) Journal
      Space is VERY empty.
      It's only slightly less non-empty when you're real close to a star or other big mass of stuff. Right now Voyager is the farthest from a star that any man-made object has ever reached, so the chances of it hitting into stuff are nearly zero.
      But to answer your original question though, no, it doesn't have any kind of stuff-avoidance ability. Even if they had designed it to have that ability, by now it wouldn't have any power left to do that.
    • Douglas Adams put it fairly well:

      Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space.

      The reason it hasn't run into anything is because space is basically empty. There's very little out there to hit and what is there is a long way from anything else. So, not it's not *VERY* lucky to have not hit anything. If it had hit something, it would have been very *UN*lucky

    • > One would think that in 30 years and so many billion miles, it must be *VERY* lucky to have avoided
      > any obstacles in its path?

      > Can anyone explain?

      Ok. Since you apparently skipped science class I'll keep it simple.

      Well first off, space is big. Really really big. Mindbogglingly big. And second it is almost entirely empty. So the odds of it hitting anything is pretty much zilch, especially out where it is now.
  • Which Edge? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:19PM (#15922745) Homepage
    According to this article [slashdot.org] Voyager 1 already passed the heliopause at 85 AU. So which edge are we looking for now?
    • by dedazo (737510)
      The edge of reason. Voyager will stare into the void, go psycho and start blogging about his cats.
    • Re:Which Edge? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zarhan (415465)
      Not heliopause. It passed the Termination Shock, where Solar wind changes from supersonic to subsonic speeds. It's still in solar wind. Heliopause will be coming up later.
  • NASA sure used to build rugged, solid stuff!
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:41PM (#15922890) Journal
    I wonder if it'll ever find life, and what the scenario in that case would look like.

    Maybe floating down from the skies with a note inside...
    "Looks like you lost something, but jeez, it was hard to track you down with more planets than its schematic shows!"
  • Great (Score:5, Funny)

    by ZakuSage (874456) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:41PM (#15922891)
    Only one more AU until it passes 100 AU from Earth.
  • by manifoldronin (827401) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:46PM (#15922918)
    All the data sent back will be lost by NASA anyways.
  • by druske (550305) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:50PM (#15922940)
    Too bad the CDP1802's [wikipedia.org] architect, Joe Weisbecker [cosmacelf.com], didn't live to see his microprocessor become the first in interstellar space. Coincidentally, this month also marks the 30th anniversary of his Popular Electronics article on the COSMAC ELF [wikipedia.org]; Nuts and Volts magazine [nutsvolts.com] is covering it.
  • by StikyPad (445176) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:26PM (#15923161) Homepage
    breaking the previous record of 99.99999AU, also set by Voyager I... the day before.
  • by iambarry (134796) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:31PM (#15923181) Homepage
    100 AU over 30 years. Seems to me I've gone almost as far in the same period of time.

    Quick math :

    -The earth travels (about) 3.14 AU / year
    - 3.14 * 30 = 94.2 AU over 30 years

    (note: I make math errors all the time. No doubt someone will correct this one if its wrong)

    Why isn't voyager faster than the earth given it started off going as fast as the earth, and quickly accelerated from that point during takeoff?
    • by Chirs (87576) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:52PM (#15923289)
      Voyager has travelled a lot further than 100AU over the years. It's just that now it is 100AU away from the sun in terms of radial distance.

      It still kept the tangential velocity...we just added radial velocity.

      Think of it traveling in a spiral, while we're going in a circle. Eventually we end up far apart.
  • Obligatory Seinfeld (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fear the Clam (230933) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:17PM (#15923421)
    Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system

    What's to find? It's not like it's hidden. Just keep going and you'll trip over it.
  • URL to a photo? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kimvette (919543) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:45PM (#15923544) Homepage Journal
    [...]The spacecraft are traveling at a distance where the sun is but a bright point of light[...]


    Are there any photos of the sun from that distance? I've never seen photos looking back at the solar system from those spacecraft published. Even if it is only points of light, it'd be neat to see some photos from Voyager with the sun and visible planets highlighted to get some sense of scale of our tiny corner of the universe.
  • Pitstop (Score:4, Funny)

    by landoltjp (676315) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:05AM (#15926022)
    I wonder how long until it reaches the next Starbucks?

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