Voyager 1 Hits New Milestone

August 16, 2006
Voyager 1 Hits New Milestone
Artist concept of the two Voyager spacecraft as they approach interstellar space. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Voyager 1, already the most distant human-made object in the cosmos, reaches 100 astronomical units from the sun on Tuesday, August 15 at 5:13 p.m. Eastern time (2:13 p.m. Pacific time). That means the spacecraft, which launched nearly three decades ago, will be 100 times more distant from the sun than Earth is.

In more common terms, Voyager 1 will be about 15 billion kilometers (9.3 billion miles) from the sun. Dr. Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist and the former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., says the Voyager team always predicted that the spacecraft would have enough power to last this long.

"But what you can't predict is that the spacecraft isn't going to wear out or break. Voyager 1 and 2 run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but they were built to last," Stone said. The spacecraft have really been put to the test during their nearly 30 years of space travel, flying by the outer planets, and enduring such challenges as the harsh radiation environment around Jupiter.

The spacecraft are traveling at a distance where the sun is but a bright point of light and solar energy is not an option for electrical power. The Voyagers owe their longevity to their nuclear power sources, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators, provided by the Department of Energy.

Voyager 1 is now at the outer edge of our solar system, in an area called the heliosheath, the zone where the sun's influence wanes. This region is the outer layer of the 'bubble' surrounding the sun, and no one knows how big this bubble actually is. Voyager 1 is literally venturing into the great unknown and is approaching interstellar space. Traveling at a speed of about one million miles per day, Voyager 1 could cross into interstellar space within the next 10 years.

"Interstellar space is filled with material ejected by explosions of nearby stars," Stone said. "Voyager 1 will be the first human-made object to cross into it."

Voyager Project Manager Ed Massey of JPL says the survival of the two spacecraft is a credit to the robust design of the spacecraft, and to the flight team, which is now down to only 10 people. "But it’s these 10 people who are keeping these spacecraft alive. They're very dedicated. This is sort of a testament to them, that we could get all this done."

Between them, the two Voyagers have explored Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn and Neptune, along with dozens of their moons. In addition, they have been studying the solar wind, the stream of charged particles spewing from the sun at nearly a million miles per hour.

Source: by Jane Platt, JPL NASA

Explore further: Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

Related Stories

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

Project Blue and the quest to photograph exoplanets

October 24, 2017

The world's collective imagination to answer the age-old question, "Are we alone," has been reignited now that we understand exoplanets – planets in orbit around stars other than Earth's Sun – are not uncommon. There's ...

A day in the life of NASA's Voyagers

September 19, 2017

At more than 10 billion miles away from Earth, there is no day and night. Time and space are fathomless and our Sun is a distant point of starlight—a faint reminder of the home NASA's twin Voyagers, humanity's farthest ...

Nanosat fleet proposed for voyage to 300 asteroids

September 19, 2017

A fleet of tiny spacecraft could visit over 300 asteroids in just over three years, according to a mission study led by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The Asteroid Touring Nanosat Fleet concept comprises 50 spacecraft ...

Recommended for you

NASA telescope studies quirky comet 45P

November 22, 2017

When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...

Recurring martian streaks: flowing sand, not water?

November 20, 2017

Dark features on Mars previously considered evidence for subsurface flowing of water are interpreted by new research as granular flows, where grains of sand and dust slip downhill to make dark streaks, rather than the ground ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.