Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Mix Tape of the Gods

Timothy Ferris, who produced the record sent into outer space with Voyager 1, has a nice op-ed piece about it in the New York Times
Having accomplished its mission [to Jupiter and Saturn], Voyager 1 might have quietly retired. Instead it remains active to this day, faithfully calling home from nearly 10 billion miles away — so great a distance that its radio signals, traveling at the speed of light, take more than 14 hours to reach Earth. From Voyager’s perch, the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion, and the Sun’s planets have faded to invisibility.
What's especially striking about this for me is the fact that we, human beings, have managed to send something so far away that it takes light 14 hours to reach us. A human artifact is 14 light hours away and is still communicating with us. Truly amazing.

Ferris also says that
Voyager 1 is approaching the edge of the solar system. That limit is defined by a teardrop-shaped bubble called the heliosphere, where the solar wind (particles blown off the Sun’s outer atmosphere) comes to a halt.

If all continues to go well, Voyager should pierce the heliosphere’s outer skin by around 2015. It will then depart into the void of interstellar space, where it is destined to wander among the stars forever.
How did we every discover that there was an edge of the heliosphere? Is this empirical data or theoretical. How do we know that the solar wind ceases sufficiently that it forms a nameable boundary? We are so clever.

Read the whole thing. But do it in the next few days before the NYT's puts starts charging for it.

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