Posts tagged carl sagan

Billions and billions…of miles away (and still going)

Voyager 1 is one amazing spacecraft.  It was launched at a time when the planets were aligned in such a way that would be ideal to take a “grand tour” of the outer solar system.  A second craft Voyager II was also launched two weeks earlier.  What makes Voyager 1 so special?  Well it was put on a faster track for one.  That means it went farther and faster than its sister spacecraft.   Currently it’s the farthest spacecraft from Earth than man has built.  Even New Horizons, which is speeding towards Pluto, won’t overtake it.  So far, nothing we’ve launched will ever overtake it.

Voyager 1 is our messenger to the stars beyond our own.  In a few years it will officially reach interstellar space.  At that point, our Sun will be nothing more than a point of light in the sky.  The Sun will likely have no influence on the spacecraft at that point.  She’ll keep forging ahead until she collides with another celestial body.  Given the expanse of space, that could take eons.  Imagine how far it will have traveled by then.  Here is a writeup from JPL that I’m going to copy/paste because, seriously, why re-invent the wheel eh?

NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline

PASADENA, Calif. – The 33-year odyssey of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.

Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1’s passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun’s sphere of influence, and the spacecraft’s upcoming departure from our solar system.

“The solar wind has turned the corner,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. “Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space.”

Our sun gives off a stream of charged particles that form a bubble known as the heliosphere around our solar system. The solar wind travels at supersonic speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock. At this point, the solar wind dramatically slows down and heats up in the heliosheath.

Launched on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock in December 2004 into the heliosheath. Scientists have used data from Voyager 1’s Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument to deduce the solar wind’s velocity. When the speed of the charged particles hitting the outward face of Voyager 1 matched the spacecraft’s speed, researchers knew that the net outward speed of the solar wind was zero. This occurred in June, when Voyager 1 was about 17 billion kilometers (10.6 billion miles) from the sun.

Because the velocities can fluctuate, scientists watched four more monthly readings before they were convinced the solar wind’s outward speed actually had slowed to zero. Analysis of the data shows the velocity of the solar wind has steadily slowed at a rate of about 20 kilometers per second each year (45,000 mph each year) since August 2007, when the solar wind was speeding outward at about 60 kilometers per second (130,000 mph). The outward speed has remained at zero since June.

The results were presented today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed,” said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator and senior staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again.”

Scientists believe Voyager 1 has not crossed the heliosheath into interstellar space. Crossing into interstellar space would mean a sudden drop in the density of hot particles and an increase in the density of cold particles. Scientists are putting the data into their models of the heliosphere’s structure and should be able to better estimate when Voyager 1 will reach interstellar space. Researchers currently estimate Voyager 1 will cross that frontier in about four years.

“In science, there is nothing like a reality check to shake things up, and Voyager 1 provided that with hard facts,” said Tom Krimigis, principal investigator on the Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument, who is based at the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Academy of Athens, Greece. “Once again, we face the predicament of redoing our models.”

A sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, was launched in Aug. 20, 1977 and has reached a position 14.2 billion kilometers (8.8 billion miles) from the sun. Both spacecraft have been traveling along different trajectories and at different speeds. Voyager 1 is traveling faster, at a speed of about 17 kilometers per second (38,000 mph), compared to Voyager 2’s velocity of 15 kilometers per second (35,000 mph). In the next few years, scientists expect Voyager 2 to encounter the same kind of phenomenon as Voyager 1.

The Voyagers were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both spacecraft. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: . JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Here is the link to the original article.

It was Carl Sagan who suggested Voyager 1 take one last photo of Earth before it diminished into the void of space.  Voyager 1 gave us the Pale Blue Dot;  A tiny portrait of everything that every Earth-bound creature has ever known and will know, for some time.

Profound?  Yes.  Yes, it is.

Keep carrying the torch for space exploration, Voyager 1.  Thanks to all the men and women involved in such a great mission.


What is that word?  I made it up.  It’s a mix of science + enthusiast.  I have to be careful though.  I’m NOT a scientist.  I’m enthusiastic about science.  So it’s what I’m going to start calling myself.

Yes, I’m a scienthusiast.

I guess it could be hyphenated  sci-enthusiast?  Maybe scien-thusiast?  Either way, I looked around Google briefly and it’s possible I thought of this before billions of other people?  Maybe it’s some horrible word that I shouldn’t use?  Nah, it’s great!  It describes me quite fittingly, I think.

So there, it’s my word.  It’s OK, you can borrow it.  I expect royalties though!

What to do with it?  Well, I think the world needs more enthusiasm for science.  Not to solve every lurking problem in our lives but to better understand how the world around us works.  Some mysteries shall remain so.  There are some exceedingly complex things in the Universe that aren’t really practical for everyone to know.  Unless it’s your job to know them, that is.

So, perhaps one of my goals in life is to help spread the word of science; Turn people on to how it all works, at a fundamental level.  It always goes back to a quote from Carl Sagan.  Roughly, we live in a world filled with technology.  So few people understand how it all works.  You don’t have to be a scientist to understand.  You simply have to open your mind to it.  When people learn how things actually work, it’s usually one of those “wow…” moments.

In saying that, remember, we can’t let go of reason for madness.  There was a time when people who studied the heavens feared retribution.  Good people were arrested, exiled or even killed for observing something knowable versus believing in something we couldn’t know.  It might seem insane to think that could happen again, but remember as a species, we’re very young.  There are a lot of good and honest people out there that speak for science.

Science is interesting because it changes based on observation.  In that sense, our view of the world has evolved, as our methods and tools have evolved.  The next few decades should prove to be very exciting in the realm of understanding.  How the forefathers of great thinkers should like to be alive today to have a glimpse at what we know.  How the great thinkers of our future might look back and realize how primitive our thinking was.  Each new generation stands on the shoulders of giants from the previous.

Life; space; time; the Cosmos; all encompassing and all waiting to be discovered and understood.  We are, in a way, how the Universe understands itself.

We, as the human race, must keep it going.  If we’re not to be scientists, we should at least be enthusiastic about science.

Enter: The Scienthusiast.

We Are Here: The Pale Blue Dot

This all revolves around a photograph taken by a small spacecraft a little over 20 years ago.  Carl Sagan thought for a while it’d be a good idea to have the spacecraft turn around and snap a photo of the Earth.  Fearing damage to the spacecraft the controllers were reluctant.  It was February 14, 1990 and Voyager I had completed all of its primary mission objectives.  Now was the time to have Voyager turn around and snap a photo.  If they had waited much longer the Earth would be too distant to even register.

So here we are.  We are given this photo.

The Pale Blue Dot

The Pale Blue Dot. As taken by Voyager I some 4 billion miles from Earth. February 14, 1990.

It sure doesn’t look like much.  To us, it is everything.  Now, I could go on about this and that regarding the photo.  The thing is, it’s already been done.  In fact, so well done, that to redo or try and out do it would be folly.  Now to read what is said about the photograph is one thing but hearing the voice of Carl Sagan means a little more.  It was his idea, so his words and voice are fitting.

The original audio was from an audio-book I do believe.  Some crafty people have done things with it in videos.  This one is probably the best I’ve found.  It really is moving. (Yes, yes, I posted this video on Facebook a while back, I know.)  So have a look now.

We are here: The Pale Blue Dot

Here is the text:

Consider again, that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say;  That one is worth everything we’ve ever known.

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