Despite their great distance, they continue to communicate with NASA on a daily basis, exploring the final frontier of interstellar space. These are the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft , which reach 40 years of operation and exploration in August and September .
Voyager 1, now nearly 12.9 billion miles from Earth, travels through interstellar space north out of the plane of the planets. Voyager 2, now nearly 17.7 billion kilometers from Earth, is traveling south and is expected to enter interstellar space in the next few years.
Everything we know thanks to them
Voyager is an aerospace milestone, in the words of Thomas Zurbuchen , associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD):
I believe that few missions can match the achievements of Voyager during its four decades of exploration. They have educated us in the unknown wonders of the universe and have truly inspired humanity to continue exploring our solar system and beyond.
Thanks to Voyagers, numerous discoveries have been made, including the following:
- Discovery of the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, on Jupiter’s moon Io
- Evidence for an underground ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
- The most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system, on Saturn’s moon Titan
- The icy moon Miranda on Uranus.
- Cold and icy geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton.
As if that were not enough, Voyagers hold various records. In 2012, Voyager 1, launched on September 5, 1977, became the only spacecraft to enter interstellar space . Voyager 2, launched on August 20, 1977, is the only spacecraft to have flown by the four outer planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
Each Voyager has three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, devices that use the heat energy generated by the decay of plutonium-238, and only half of it will disappear after 88 years. The team members estimate that they will have to shut down the last scientific instrument by 2030 . Until then, have a good trip.