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Space Science

Farthest Human-Made Object: First Quarter Century 405

Posted by Hemos
from the marking-time dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The NASA Astrobiology Magazine reports today the 25th anniversary of the Voyager I launch, now the farthest human-made object at 93 Sun-Earth distances (93 AU), or 12 light-hours away. Expected battery life to 2020. The fascinating part is that gold record of civilization, which is a strange audio mix of sentimental kisses [wav file, let ET phone home that way] and perhaps the most dated picture of DNA. Some progress there. Voy 1 will likely confuse even modern earthlings-- much less ET. Case in point: In 2002, can we understand that 70's show, when the Polish greeting memorialized as "Welcome, creatures from beyond the outer world"? Unlike those ET creatures we meet daily from the inner world?"
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Farthest Human-Made Object: First Quarter Century

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  • In slightly related news, NASA has lost contact [asia1.com.sg] with Contour, the Comet Nucleus Tour probe.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:15AM (#4110393)
    In about 300 years an advanced extraterrestrial civilization will come across it and think "Ha, what a primitive civilization, THIS is the extent of their technology... hey, they have lots of water and nitrogen, let's go conquer them." And when they get here they're met by the Global Planetary Defense System with its neutron shield and highly accurate laser weaponry instead, manned by fourth generation genetically-engineered Warrior Humans who kill without mercy but can be easily controlled.

    Wish I was gonna be around to watch all this.
  • Perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Andy Smith (55346) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:19AM (#4110399) Homepage
    The fact that Voyager is now 12 light *hours* away really puts things into perspective for me. I'm not much of a space nut but I know that the distance from earth to the nearest stars (apart from our sun) is measured in light *years* so it's humbling to realise that even our furthest reach is trivial in the grand scheme of things. We haven't even stepped out of the house yet, nevermind explored the neighbourhood. (That sounds a bit like a put-down but it isn't. I think Voyager is an awesome achievement.)
    • Of course, by the time that this probe *gets* to our nearest neighbor in the galaxy, man will probably have discovered warp-drive, transporters, replicators, shuttlecraft, and expendable guys in red shirts...

      -Rick
      • by Fishstick (150821) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:44AM (#4110681) Journal
        Oh good. Then one of the first missions could be to go out an retreive voyager before it falls into the wrong hands and is used as blackmail.

        "Ha! Look at the cute little spacecraft the earthlings sent out thousands of years ago! How pitiful!"

        "Shut up, give it back!"

        "Oooh, I bet the guys on Gallus V will really get a kick out of this. The Big Bad Earthers and their cute little tin-foil spacecraft!"


        Kind of like when your big brother finds a picture of you in the bathtub at age 9 months and threatens to show it to your friends.
        • I don't understand this embarecement to be seen as a baby. Don't we all were babys once? Everyone loves to se babies but get embareced when people see themselves as a baby. I used to have a picture of my self as a baby in my wallet, it was a funny one cause I was doing some "dirt" gestures. Actualy my hands were caugth in a random position that casualy looks like an "ok" for american, but in Brasil it stands for "asshole".
    • If its velocity is constant, when it dies in 2020 Voyager will have travelled less than a light-day from Earth. In the grand scheme of things, unless it really collides [sciflicks.com] with something there is very little chance it will ever be noticed.
    • Re:Perspective (Score:3, Interesting)

      by little1973 (467075)
      You are quite right. The problem is that even the speed of light is snail-pace compared to the vast distances in the universe, let alone the speed of Voyager.

      This problem really annoys me, because it seems nobody gives a thought about how we will communicate or travel in space. It takes from 3 to 20 minutes for radio waves to cover the distance between the Earth and Mars depending their position around the Sun. Which means you can never phone to Mars from Earth, because you get an answer for your question in about 6-40 minutes. In our rushing world thats a lot of time.

      As for travelling in space the twin paradox poses another problem. If we can reach almost the speed of light by some method we have to face this relativity problem. If you step in your space ship and after 1 hour you step out on Alpha Centauri you will have to face with the fact in the "real" world 4 years passed. Communication with Earth is quite futile also, because they get your message in 4 years.

      In short, if Einstein is right we are in a dead end. So, I want to beleive there is worm hole or hyperspace or whatever which makes space travel possible otherwise humanity will stuck to this planet forever.

      Or, as I hope, Einstein is not right. I hope a genius in the future will invalidate Einstein theory as Einstein invalidated Newton theory. It is interesting that nobody dares to say, but Newton theory about gravity and his equations were completely shattered by Einstein on the theoretical level. On the practical level we use them, because they are not so complex as Einstein's and provide us with the neccessary precision, but this does not do anything with the fact that Newton's theory is wrong.
      • by Saggi (462624) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @08:32AM (#4110927) Homepage
        Just because the nearest star is really far away, it doesn't make it disappointing. We'll get there some day, it may take time and it may not be easy to phone home, but does it matter.

        1000 years ago, it took years to go or communicate from one end of the known world to the other.

        250 years ago, we reach the new world. But it still took most of a year, and the danger of shipwreck to get there.

        In 100 years from now we may have very fast ships. Lets say 10% of light speed. This would put us on the nearest star in 40 years. People who go on that mission will be expecting it to be so. Civilization is not a one mans cause; it's the perspective of generations.
      • Easy - subspace beacons :)

        And if you step out on Alpha Centauri itself, I think what's going on at home will be the least of your problems.

        Anyway, I hope you are right about Einstein not being right. I really need to try to understand relativity sometimes - to me if you go at the speed of light for 4.2 years to Alpha Centauri, then 4.2 years should have passed - both for you and at home.

        I guess I just refused to accept that the speed of light is the limiting factor....kinda like saying that time goes backwards if you go over 55mph on the highway.

        All we really need to do is find a huge pocket of melange though and all our problems are answered. :)
      • This problem really annoys me, because it seems nobody gives a thought about how we will communicate or travel in space.
        Lots of people have given it thought; it's just that no one has come up with a satisfying solution, because there isn't any. No wonder you're annoyed. Who wouldn't be? :-)
        you can never phone to Mars from Earth, because you get an answer for your question in about 6-40 minutes. In our rushing world thats a lot of time.
        Nah. In the time of phones, that was a lot of time. Now in the time of email, 40 minutes is no big deal. The "rushing world" ain't what it used to be; we slowed down.

      • In short, if Einstein is right we are in a dead end. So, I want to beleive there is worm hole or hyperspace or whatever which makes space travel possible otherwise humanity will stuck to this planet forever.

        Or, as I hope, Einstein is not right. I hope a genius in the future will invalidate Einstein theory as Einstein invalidated Newton theory. It is interesting that nobody dares to say, but Newton theory about gravity and his equations were completely shattered by Einstein on the theoretical level.

        Newton's physics is "good enough", except at very high speeds or very dense gravitational gradients. Experiments have confirmed those subtle discrepencies between reality and the predictions of the theory. Einstein's physics is "good enough" in those cases... Feel free to study Einstein's theories, and figure out an experiment to perform to show that he was wrong.

        We shall see whether humanity is stuck on this planet forever (errr. for mumble billion years before the sun swells to its red-giant phase and vaporizes the planet...) or we make it out to the solar system, or even the stars.

        It may take hundreds or thousands of years before we have the wealth and the ability and the desire to create a civilization off of this planet.
    • How quickly could we catch up with Voyager using 2002 technology?
  • One massive typo here. 12 light years is 3X the distance of Alpha Centauri...

    12 light years would require it to fly at ½ the speed of light, which is not technichally feasible (unfortunately!)

  • by ivaldes3 (175216) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:39AM (#4110448) Homepage
    I think it was Carl Sagan was on the team that developed the gold record on the side of Voyager I. The 'stellar record' I believe it was called. -- IV
  • by upstateguy (90019) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:39AM (#4110449)
    As BBC reported [bbc.co.uk] yesterday, in 2012 or so, Voyager 1 is predicted to cross the heliopause, the boundry at which time it *really* will leave our solar system.

    Pretty neat for a piece of 1970's technology.
    • Pretty neat for a piece of 1970's technology.
      Not really. I mean, the journey it made, the navigation around the planets to gain more speed was pretty impressive, but in my view it is not impressive to leave to solar system. You see, on the next Shuttle flight they could bring a 16th century vase, and hurl it into space. Give it a few years, and it will too leave the solar system, but is that neat, or impressive?
      • They would have to hurl that vase at at least 19 kilometers per second for it to leave the solar system, and even at that rate, it would not go nearly as quickly as the Voyager probes. 19km/s would be just enough for it to just barely crawl away from the solar system at a velocity asymptotically approaching zero.

        Besides, your analogy falls flat. I presume your point was that the age of the technology is irrelevant when it comes to leaving the solar system? Then consider this: what is it that pushed the 1970s technology of the Voyagers out of the solar system? Answer: more 1970s technology. If your 16th century vase were propelled by 16th century rockets, then your analogy would be valid.

  • by IainHere (536270) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:44AM (#4110470)
    When eminent biologist and author Lewis Thomas was asked what message he would choose to send from Earth into outer space in the Voyager spacecraft, he answered, "I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach." After a pause, he added, "But that would be boasting."
    • Correction. After postulating that music would be the most appropriate medium by which to communicate with extraterrestrial life, Lewis continued,

      "Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again." He added, "We would be bragging, of course."

      ObRef: Thomas, L. Ceti. in Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, Viking Press, New York, 1974, 42-46
    • Concerning J.S.Bach:

      There's an info page on the message to the universe here [nasa.gov].

      Bach has 3 pieces on the record, compared to 2 by Beethoven and 1 each by Mozart, Stravinsky, Chuck Berry, and Blind Willie Johnson. I'd say the selectors did a pretty good job as far as the classical western genres are concerned.

      (2 by Beethoven is over-representation? Possibly, but one is from one of the sublime late string quartets.)

  • DNA is still DNA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oingoboingo (179159) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @06:49AM (#4110483)
    ...and perhaps the most dated picture of DNA

    Huh? Unless something changed recently, all the details illustrated in the DNA diagram are still as valid now as they were in the 70s. Is the story submitter upset because the double helix isn't animated, spinning slowly around, backlit by an offscreen purple fluorescent light source with meaningless reams of genetic code flashing past in the background like in a million bad sci-fi movies?

    You'll still find a very similar style of diagram in any molecular biology textbook.
    • by HanzoSan (251665) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:32AM (#4110631) Homepage Journal
      I mean damn of all things you could give a person why give them your DNA?

      If aliens decide to take over the world, well theres a map, our DNA so they can change their genes to look exactly like us, some wav files so they can learn how we talk and maybe even our language from the greetings. What the hell are Nasa scientists doing? Where is the government and national security?

      I mean damn shouldnt the NSA outlaw us putting DNA into space and maps, I dare the scientist who gave our DNA to aliens to post his social security number and credit card number on the internet in plain text!

    • Does anyone know why the diagram uses S to represent the base cytosine in the DNA diagram rather than C? Is it simply to avoid confusion with the c they use for carbon in outlining the structure of the bases, or is it part of an outdated labeling convention?
  • Golden Record (Score:3, Informative)

    by JimPooley (150814) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:03AM (#4110527) Homepage
    Doesn't the disc on Voyager feature an introduction by then UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim giving greetings from Earth?
    How odd that the first human voice any aliens who could work the disc will hear is the voice of a former Nazi alleged to have taken part in war crime atrocities in the then Yugoslavia...
    • How odd is it that the former Secretary General was a former Nazi alleged to have taken part in war crime atrocities in the then Yugoslavia?
    • Doesn't the disc on Voyager feature an introduction by then UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim giving greetings from Earth?

      How odd that the first human voice any aliens who could work the disc will hear is the voice of a former Nazi alleged to have taken part in war crime atrocities in the then Yugoslavia...

      It's not worse than aliens contacting earth by sending them back the 1936 TV programme with Adolf Hitler at the opening ceremony of the Berlin games.
  • What's Next: To infinity and beyond
    Another very crucial word that is almost always taken for granted by scientist and lay-men alike is Infinity. Does anybody know what infinity is really? The concept infinity is an ad-hoc device invented by humanity to hide certain contradictions wih our state of knowledge. The mere definition of infinity implies that there is no 'beyond', yet our current state of understanding does not provide room for boundlessness.
    Often scientists talk about how the universe is expanding. The concept of expansion itself demands that a boundary be present. And boundaries demark two regions, one within and one beyond. Yet nobody dares mention what is beyond the universe.
    All these contradictions just tell us one thing. Alot has to be undone about our stake of knowledge before we can begin to truely understand.
    Our current state of knowledge is similar to the days before Galeleo, when people thought the world was flat and you could reach the end of the world.

    My 0.02
    • Obviously the universe isn't getting any larger. Everything inside of it is getting perportionaly smaller, evenly. That way it looks like the universe is getting bigger, but really not. It's just the size of a softball. really.
    • Your ignorance is charming assuming that you're still in elementary or secondary school. If you're older than that, then it's not so charming.
  • Case in point: In 2002, can we understand that 70's show, when the Polish greeting memorialized as "Welcome, creatures from beyond the outer world"?


    That's a nice sentence fragment you've written. Try full sentences next time. You might like them.
  • ... imagine you were on that thing. You'd be the loneliest person known to mankind.

    I don't know about anyone else but I get this quite erie vision of this thing out there with nothing around it for millions of miles.

  • How fast is voyager traveling? Can we launch something that is faster? We've got 4.2 light YEARS to get to Proxima Centauri. 12 light HOURS are not going to cut it....
    • by Goonie (8651)
      Voyager is not travelling all that fast, and we could go faster with sufficient time and engineering effort.

      First cab off the rank is probably the Orion drive. Build a really big plate, attach it with really big springs and dampers to a heavily radiation-shielded spacecraft, and detonate atom bombs behind the plate. The basic technology exists right now, all you need is a pile of cash and be prepared to violate the space weapons treaty. Maximum speed is about 1-2% of the speed of light, so you're still taking a couple of centuries to Proxima Centauri.

      Next option is a fusion engine. We can't generate power with controlled fusion yet, but ITER probably will if and when it gets built. ITER is, er, rather large and heavy, and doesn't really produce much net power, so a practical space fusion power plant is a fair bit of engineering development down the road. Anyway, the idea is quite simple. Release the "exhaust" of the reaction out the back of the engine, just like a normal rocket except the exhuast is a hell of a lot hotter and travelling a lot faster. Maximum speed maybe 10-12% of the speed of light.

      Alternatively, use a light sail powered by a really big laser. All you need is to scale up laser and telescope technology a crapload (so, again, considerable engineering development required). Maximum speed? Somewhere between 10 and maybe 30% of the speed of light, depending on just how big you can make your mirror (and consequently how far you can keep accelerating).

      The other big issue with interstellar spacecraft is the question of how much debris is out there. If there's a lot, as you go faster you'll need one hell of a shield to protect you.

      Finally, there's there's also the possibility of using antimatter-matter reactions to power a ship. Antimatter is kinda powerful stuff to have around, and you could theoretically use it to power a ship to near the speed of light. However, there is no known natural source, and manufacturing it requires milllions of times more energy put in than you get back when you "burn" it. It, therefore, is a really long-term option from when humanity has such astounding energy generation capacity it can afford to use it to power antimatter-powered spaceships.

      All in all, there are some possibilities, but most are still a fair bit of technological development away. Let's get to the rest of the solar system first :)

  • by Zoop (59907) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:36AM (#4110644)
    All I hear is "Wytajcie, istoty zaswiatu," which would basically mean "Greetings, otherworldly beings," or better, "Greetings to beings from beyond Earth." The "outer world" is at best a rather poetic (or possibly condescending) translation.

    I think it would be an equivalent of "Greetings, creatures from Outer Space," but they didn't intone it pretentiously, right before Ed Wood hovers the hubcap from a string and a theremin plays in the background as his boustier intrudes into the picture, as we are wont to do over here.
    • "zas'wiaty" (due to flexion it's "zas'wiato'w", you hear it as 'zas'vyatoov') is a word I can't give proper English equivalent now since I don't have a dictionary handy, but it means the place the ghosts come from. It's general for heaven, hell, limbo etc. Maybe I don't know something, but it's rather not where the Voyager was sent :-) Correct would be e.g. "istoty z dalekich s'wiato'w", heard as "dahlekyh s'vyatoov" and meaning "far worlds".
    • Isn't it rather "Hello to all intelligent life forms everywere, and to everyone else, the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys"????
  • Sounds of Earth (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mmca (180858)

    If you found this record do you think you could play it?

    And extract the images from it?

    I have the directions http://vraptor.jpl.nasa.gov/voyager/messages/VgrCo ver.jpg
    and it would still be pretty tricky.

    If I didnt have them I dont think I would have any chance of figuring out what this thing was.

    -M
  • by lucasw (303536) <lucasw@@@icculus...org> on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @07:55AM (#4110737) Homepage Journal
    Is the Voyager really going fast enough to make it to another star, even if it was pointed at one? A lot of these posts and articles similar to this seem to imagine the thing just sailing on forever, not in a particularly long orbit around our sun.

    If I'm plugging in the equation right, taking into account the 93 AU that the Voyager has already reached, and the present speed (39,000 miles an hour, assuming none of that's tangential velocity), I get a required speed of 4000 km/s, and the Voyager is going far slower.

    So as far as I can tell, really the gold record, etc. on board are more of a time capsule for when the craft swings back around on its comet-like trajectory, rather than for contacting aliens. I think the nasa people and popular science writers like to preserve the more romantic notion of an unintentional first instellar voyage, though my calculations could be wrong.

    • Looks to me like you must have made an error in your calculations.

      Escape velocity from the Sun at a given radius,r, is just sqrt(2*G*M_sun/r). Plugging in (G=6.67e-8 in cgs units; M=2e33 g; r=93 AU = 93 *(1.496e13 cm)), I get v_escape of about 4.4e5 cm/s, or 4.4 km/s. (About 15,800 km/hr, or 9800 mi/hr, safely less than Voyager's velocity.)

      It was an interesting thought, though. :-)

  • by Arcturax (454188) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @08:05AM (#4110777)
    Fully updated with ion or solar sail propulsion to get it out there quicker with a nice AOLesque "VERSION 3.0" stamped on the side so they know its the latest.

    On board we also include a copy of Lord of the Rings in DivX format and Mp3's of Britney Spears. That way if the aliens invade, we can tell the RIAA and MPAA they have pirated movies and music and watch the aliens recoil and flee under the unsuing crush of lawyers and DMCA threat letters.

    If that doesn't work, we trick them into installing the cracked copy of WinXP convieniently on stowed board and watch their ships fail in horrible and astonishing ways.

    Now if that fails, then we trick them into installing AOL and logging onto it. After all nothing can withstand humankinds most powerful weapon... Pure stupidity.
    • The on-again off-again 2006 Pluto probe (launch date) relies on favorable planetary configurations as Voyager did. If it isn't launched in 2006 then its something like 40 years before another favorable Pluto configuration occurs.
  • realize that the article was submitted a day before it was posted to the main page, so "today" actually refers to August 20th.

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Wednesday August 21, 2002 @08:17AM (#4110833)
    How far would this baby be now?


    "Project Thunderwell was the inspiration of astrophysicist Bob Brownlee, who in the summer of 1957 was faced with the problem of containing underground an explosion, expected to be equivalent to a few hundred tons of dynamite. Brownlee put the bomb at the bottom of a 500-foot vertical tunnel in the Nevada desert, sealing the opening with a four-inch thick steel plate weighing several hundred pounds. He knew the lid would be blown off; he didn't know exactly how fast. High-speed cameras caught the giant manhole cover as it began its unscheduled flight into history. Based upon his calculations and the evidence from the cameras, Brownlee estimated that the steel plate was traveling at a velocity six times that needed to escape Earth's gravity when it soared into the flawless blue Neavada sky. 'We never found it. It was gone,' Brownlee says, a touch of awe in his voice almost 35 years later.


    http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hall/1892 /s putnik.html

  • It should be, "Greetings, creatures from beyond Earth."

  • Even without believing tinfoilhat stuff, isn't it more accurate to call this the farthest known manmade object?

    How impossible is it that a pottery shard was included in some ejectile material 25,000 years ago... and given the likely orbits of something like that, how far could it have gone?
  • I noticed that a drawing of a circle [nasa.gov] is copyrighted. It's a the top of the list on NASA's webpage on the Voyager photograpic recordings [nasa.gov]. Makes me wonder, will extraterrestrials be sued under DMCA?

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