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Space Science

Whisper Heard From Pioneer 10 611

Irishman writes "NASA has heard from the Pioneer 10 spacecraft for the first time since March. Unfortunately, it is too faint to get scientific data from the craft. CNN has the story here. Considering that the craft is twice the distance from the Sun as Pluto is and that it has spent 30 years subjected to space, this is amazing! Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."
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Whisper Heard From Pioneer 10

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  • by Aggrazel ( 13616 ) <aggrazel@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:24PM (#4915514) Journal
    "Khaaaaaaaan!"

    sorry, I'll quit now.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:31PM (#4915582)
      ...and still being productive. What is your excuse?
    • Re:What it said: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:40PM (#4916269) Journal
      "Khaaaaaaaan!"

      Because of the signal distance, it was actually received as:

      Kh&.aa.a#aaa.*n!

      Then again, that is close to how Kirk used to talk anyhow :-)

      Here is an interesting snippet:

      "On the rare occasions when astronomers have coaxed even sparse data from Pioneer 10 in recent years, they have used the readings to investigate everything from cosmic rays to chaos theory to gravitational mechanics."

      Pioneer 10 is getting near the expected border of the "heliosphere" (sp?) which is often considered the border of our solar system and interstellar space. It is the "spot" where the radiation pressure from interstellar space becomes stronger than the Sun's (due to the distance from the Sun).

      Pioneer has also been used to inspect a very odd gravity anomally, also found in other probes. Nobody has found a way to account for it using known physics. It is a small force, but consitent. The anomally may relate to the mysterious "dark matter" which seems to be pulling on stars, but nobody knows what it is. Voyagers cannot also measure it for some reason which I never figured out. Something to do with its navigation adjustments/propellant being too complicated to factor out motion adjustments I think.

      It was originally thought that the gravity anomally was due to the nuclear heat or radiation from Pioneer's power system "pushing" the probe. However, it drops over time, but the gravity difference does not fit that drop-off curve.

      Too bad the signal is not strong enough to get good data for the next decade or so. They probably could if they put many *more* antenna's on the listening job (a beowulf cluster of antenna's? :-), but NASA is already backlogged on communication with probes, so Mars and Voyager would probably get priority.

      Too bad they spend so much on ISS and get so little science when working probes at the edge of our system have to be ignored. Sigh.
      • Re:What it said: (Score:5, Interesting)

        by RedDevilCG ( 635264 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @02:56PM (#4916988)
        My bad I accidently replied to this somewhere else, so this is a duplicate post by me.... Anyways:

        "Pioneer has also been used to inspect a very odd gravity anomally, also found in other probes. Nobody has found a way to account for it using known physics. It is a small force, but consitent."

        If anyone else wanted to know a little bit more what Tablizer was talking about here is some info on BBC.

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1332368.stm

      • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <{gro.tserofed} {ta} {todhsals}> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @04:01PM (#4917571)
        The force could be caused by the Yarkovsky Effect, a weak lateral force on spinning bodies in the solar system. It's being studied by planetary scientists as a way that asteroids can move around the solar system. The idea is that the sunlit side of the asteroid (or, in this case, spacecraft) gets warm and its properties change; then it rotates to the sunset side, yielding an asymmetry to the thermal profile of the body. (for example, here on Earth it's almost always coldest just before dawn).

        If the asteroid (or spacecraft) isn't too old, it outgasses, and the outgassing rate depends strongly on temperature, forming a weak natural rocket engine. Even for refractory materials (or old asteroids that have outgassed all that they are going to) the photon pressure from the warm side can have a significant effect over millions of years.

        I haven't done the calculation myself, but I've discussed it over cocktails with Bill Bottke, a leading asteroid scientist, and he seemed to think it was a plausible explanation for the Pioneer 10 orbital drift. P10 is a spinner.

    • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @02:44PM (#4916874) Homepage Journal
      In space, it is cold enough to overclock....
    • No, no, no. it's ...

      ... can you hear me now? good!

      ... can you hear me now? ... uh... hello?

      Uh oh.

  • by Undaar ( 210056 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:25PM (#4915523) Homepage
    The Pioneer 10 spacecraft was heard to whisper, "I can see my house!"
  • Too bad (Score:4, Funny)

    by Apathy costs bills ( 629778 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:25PM (#4915528) Homepage Journal
    Too bad they couldn't decode the message:

    "Hey guys, Veeger's here, and she's pissed."
  • They can (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:27PM (#4915543) Journal
    Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."

    They can, you just don't want to pay for it.
    • Re:They can (Score:5, Informative)

      by jdludlow ( 316515 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:31PM (#4915583)
      Exactly. Pioneer 10 cost ~$200 million to design and build, plus another ~$150 million to launch and operate. Here's more information on it. [nasa.gov]
      • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @03:26PM (#4917268) Homepage Journal
        1. No users. None. Nada. Zip. Not one filthy human peanut-butter smudged hand to touch the damned thing after it was turned on. Friends with families have equipment fail within a year or two, while my identical equipment runs for years after.
        2. Vacuum environment. See prior point. No dust to eventually cause heating problems by clogging fans or fins, just nice cozy isolation to radiate heat into.
        3. Simplicity. Pioneer 10 was less complex than a modern pocket organizer, and less powerful.
        4. Industrial design. Home buyers don't want something as rugged as Pioneer 10 -- they want something shiny with lots of blinking lights and switches. (Also related to (1).)
        5. No "Made in China/Korea/Vietnam/..." parts. If there were, they'd have been individually tested (as were the components actually used), rather than testing n/1000 and using the results to decide if the lot is "good enough" to ship.
        6. Pride. People working on NASA projects had pride, something sorely lacking in modern manufacturing. Profit margin has replaced pride in product quality. Can you imagine a space probe designed and built by HPaq? or by a whitebox "manufacturer"?
    • Re:They can (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:32PM (#4915603) Homepage
      Just this week I looked all over CompUSA for a power supply that could withstand the radiation of deep space for 30 years. The one I found was $635,000. I think I'll wait until after Christmas. Maybe it will go on sale.

      -B
      • Re:They can (Score:4, Informative)

        by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:50PM (#4915816)
        Just for interest, Pioneer is powered by the decay of Plutonium 238. This isn't a reactor, the decay is natural.
        • Unlike Cher (Score:3, Funny)

          by bogie ( 31020 )
          Ba-dump-pish
        • Re:They can (Score:4, Interesting)

          by quasarc ( 633982 ) <quasarc&comcast,net> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:50PM (#4916389)
          They can, they have, and they will. The power source is available (provided you can pass the background check). It's called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator or RTG. Links follow, beware of wrap.

          http://nuclear.gov/space/space-desc.html

          http://science.slashdot.org/science/02/10/28/172 32 59.shtml?tid=126

          http://spacelink.nasa.gov/NASA.Projects/Human.Ex pl oration.and.Development.of.Space/Human.Space.Fligh t/Shuttle/Shuttle.Missions/Flight.031.STS-34/Galil eos.Power.Supply/RTG.Fact.Sheet

          http://www.snakeriveralliance.org/PhotoGallery/S pa ce%20Batteries.htm
          • Re:They can (Score:3, Interesting)

            by _ph1ux_ ( 216706 )
            They talk about the fact that the 3 times that missions failed - the RTG units did not release any plutonium. They have changed the RTG heat source from plutonium metal to plutonium oxide.

            Some things I would like to know:

            1. how hot do these units get.
            2. how much plutonium does it require per watt of power output.
            3. how dangerous is the plutonium oxide to people
            4. how safe is the plutonium oxide in terrestrial applications - applications where people would be in close proximity (a few meters) to the heat source.

            is this a technology that (green party aside) could be applied locally to things such as vehicles, self powered compounds in the middle of no where (like if you bought a missle silo)

    • Re:They can (Score:5, Funny)

      by freeweed ( 309734 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:03PM (#4915940)
      I dunno, the Commodore Pet I have has been working steadily since 1977, that's not much newer than Pioneer 10, and cost under $5,000 at the time (cost me $25 last year :).
  • by writermike ( 57327 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:27PM (#4915545)
    "Rosebud."

    What could it mean? WHAT COULD IT MEAN?!
  • Sturdy OS? (Score:2, Funny)

    by caluml ( 551744 )
    Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."

    Oh, but they do, they do.. ;)

    Well, software manufacturers do. The OS on that probe is running Microsoft SpaceOS 1962. Guaranteed relibility.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:28PM (#4915553) Journal
    If only computer buyers used them in a sub-zero vaccuum.

    If they can't get any meaningful data from it, how do they know for sure its still on, and they didn't just see a random anomaly, or even an alien race using the same frequency?
    • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:32PM (#4915600) Homepage
      If they can't get any meaningful data from it, how do they know for sure its still on, and they didn't just see a random anomaly, or even an alien race using the same frequency?

      Because it's where it's supposed to be, and it's as far away as it's supposed to be. (They sent a command to it, and the appropriate time later, they received a response, of the right characteristics and expected power level. The received signal just wasn't strong enough for their receiver to lock on.)

      • by Codifex Maximus ( 639 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:11PM (#4916006) Homepage
        Why can't they build better transmitters? Better yet, why not setup relays for the probes. One on Pluto would help. Maybe send a string of probes which then relay information back to earth.
        • Why can't they build better transmitters? Better yet, why not setup relays for the probes. One on Pluto would help. Maybe send a string of probes which then relay information back to earth.

          1. The problem is trying to catch the signal being transmitted by the 150W or so Pioneer with a big dish here on earth.

          2. Assuming that Pluto is closer to Pioneer 10 than we are. Pluto may be closer to us than Pioneer 10 is, and Pluto may be closer to the sun than Pioneer 10 is, but that doesn't mean that Pluto is necessarily closer to Pioneer 10 than we are - e.g., if Pluto were on the opposite side of the sun from Pioneer 10.

  • by The Terrorists ( 619137 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:30PM (#4915565)
    get your facts straight about space construction...

    In space, all the craft needs to deal with is the occasional decresing chance of a cosmic or solar ray, or perhaps a micrometeorite. Earth's changing climactic conditions and microbes are far more destructive to technology than is space!

    The space stuff is actually far too fragile to work on Earth, and is designed from a payload perspective to be light, not Earth-durable.

    • by jd ( 1658 ) <<imipak> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:44PM (#4915740) Homepage Journal
      The radiation in space would fry most electronics. The special rad-hardened stuff you need for space is far from trivial to make.


      Oh, then you've the temperature thing. Commercial grade components won't handle sub-zero celcius. Industrial grade goes to -40 and military/space will support -50.


      Space is 5'K, which is -268 celcius. The difference in rates of thermal expansion of metals and plastics would be enough to shatter most components, at that temperature.

      • by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:52PM (#4915840)
        I don't believe that's actually always the case. I have a friend who works for the Surrey Space Centre on very small satellites [sstl.co.uk] - I was chatting to him down the pub about it one day and I was quite surprised to find out that it ran on an ordinary StrongArm Chip running at something like 133Mhz (Sorry - I don't recall the exact speed).

        However, I suppose it's possible that the nanosatellite they built was sufficiently close to the earth to be sheilded from the radiation you speak of...
        • by JGski ( 537049 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:58PM (#4916460) Journal
          Rad Hardening is required for deep space or in LEO or MEO under certain circumstances.

          Yes, the satellites you refer to are LEO and are thus still within and protected from solar radiation by the Earth's magnetic fields. Also the expected lifetime for LEO satellites is short because there is enough atmospheric drag at LEO to assure reentry in just a few years (the central cost flaw with Teledesic, BTW). NASA's push to use off-the-shelf parts is based on the assumption that most satellite projects can and will exist at LEO and will be cheap enough to be disposable with shorter lifespans. Remove these assumptions and you will have trouble using commerical parts.

          Anything in a higher orbit, with longer life or unusual mission will be exposed to direct solar or other radiation. Over time through the sun spot cycle (12 years), solar flares will raise total dose levels typically 1-2 orders of magnitude over sunspot minimums.

          Most commercial ICs are laughably soft. When I was in the business of testing such we tried commercial Intel uP's in our radiation chambers; they'd die in a matter of minutes while the space-grade equivalents lasted much longer (I could tell you how long but I'd have to kill you :-) ). Pioneer's lifespan using space-grade parts gives a clue though.

          JGSki

        • Yes! (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I worked for 10 years in a facility that built custom ICs for NASA. Most of the ICs in almost every historic space mission was produced by this facility. When I was there we used a lot of 6805 varients. They were NOT the same parts that you could buy off the shelf. First, the die we started with was processsed specificly for the application. Second the construction techniques are far different then commercial parts. Third, we screened the *** out of them, as in start with 40 parts for a deliverable of 4 units. The StrongArm is a industrial device to begin with. It is not a commercial grade part. Industrial grade ICs are already part of the way there, to level S.

          Any ways, the real killer for space craft, besides being able to survive launch, is temperature. It is not just the extreams, NASA parts work from -55c to +125c, it is the tempurature cycling. Tempurature cycling stresses wirebonds, package seals, and even the integrety of the substrate. Temp cycling can even drive out chemically bound water that can react with ionic contaminates to produce corrosives. This can degrade bond wires, the substrate metalization, and on one occasion, a resistor on the die itself.

          Building a spacecraft from parts from Radio Shack is like fighting a modern navel battle with bass boats. Though a bass boat and a destroyer both float, have GPS, radios, radar, and sonar, there is a lot of differents in construction. I'd but my money on the destroyer.
    • The space stuff is actually far too fragile to work on Earth, and is designed from a payload perspective to be light, not Earth-durable.

      Uhm, no. There are several problems with the space environment, that all end up requiring very robust construction:

      (1) The launch loads. The thing gets shaken up quite badly on launch (10's of G's around 100 Hz), not to mention acoustic loads around 200 dB.

      (2) Pyro shock. A lot of propulsion system valves are one-shot explosively actuated, for reliability reasons. The effect of firing one is akin to hitting the spacecraft with a sledgehammer.

      (3) Space radiation. Typical designs call for spacecraft to withstand doses of 20-100 kiloRad (a lethal dose is about 500 rad). This will fry your home computer!

      (4) Thermal loads. As mentioned by others, the thermal environment is extreme, with swings from 10K in shadow to 300K in sunlight. Of course, the spacecraft is designed so the internals don't see such swings (so a computer can be in a warm box and stay at a comfortable 270 +/- 20K). But the swings can play hell with the exterior of the craft.

      (5) Plasma and upper atmospheric effects. In particular atomic oxygen (in low Earth orbit) does nasty things to the spacecraft; in addition there can be problems with rocket and thruster exhaust (if the conductive plasma enters the electronics you can have your spacecraft die).

      (6) General reliability. If you've spent a gigabuck on the thing you can't have it die because of one lousy component. So you have to design for extreme reliability - look at the Pioneers; still working after 30 years with no maintenance! It makes server reliability seem trivial by comparison.

      So no, spacecraft have to be sturdy things. However, they are designed for a different environment - so they won't necessarily withstand e.g. saltwater immersion very well.

  • use repeaters ... ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mystik ( 38627 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:30PM (#4915566) Homepage Journal

    Why didn't NASA send out repeaters behind it ? I'd imagine that a series of repeaters behind it would be able to get information back to us on earth...

    • by tanveer1979 ( 530624 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:35PM (#4915641) Homepage Journal
      simple reason
      Coordination.
      Besides having a large dish on earth do communication is one thing... and having communications system based on a remote probe is another.
      Moreover the Voyager serves the purpose too. It is farther than Pioneer... infact it is the farthest man made object. It is working perfectly right now. Rather than send repeaters after the sent out probes what is preffered is to send better probes in another direction.
    • by Jace of Fuse! ( 72042 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:35PM (#4915649) Homepage
      Actually, that would be a great idea. Launch a series of repeaters every few years.... one right behind another...

      Eventually we'll have this long trail of little probes, each sending very weak signals to the next in line. One day, the one in the front will get to some alien planet and it's message of peace will be delivered.

      Then, all they have to do is follow the trail of junk back to earth and wipe us out.

      Okay, no, seriously. This IS a good idea. It would allow us to listen to a probe no matter how far away it traveled, as long as the probes all stayed aligned, and nothing broke. They wouldn't even really have to be that "close" for it to work, either.
    • Sure. That would be more links in the chain, which means more places for the communication to breakdown. If one link goes, there goes your entire chain.

      NASA's best use of probes would be to send out newer, better probes in different directions.
    • by gorilla ( 36491 )
      Why bother?

      While it's interesting that it's still working, there is nothing out there to study. The Kuiper belt is too low density for there to be any chance for Pioneer to see anything, and the first Kuiper belt object wasn't even discovered until 1992 anyway, so at time of launch, there was nothing known outside the orbit of Pluto.

      • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <`moc.nosduh-arab ... `nosduh.arabrab'> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:42PM (#4915714) Journal
        <quote>While it's interesting that it's still working, there is nothing out there to study. </quote>

        If we don't even bother to look, how do we know there's nothing worth looking at? :-)

      • by CynicTheHedgehog ( 261139 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:44PM (#4915739) Homepage
        It would be nice to know when it hits heliopause, or the point in space where the sun's magnetic field ends. That way it would no longer be in the solar system, but truly an interstellar craft. Not only would that give us useful scientific data with which we can revise our solar model and dynamo theory, but it would also be a historical achievement for man.
        • It would be nice to know when it hits heliopause, or the point in space where the sun's magnetic field ends.

          How is this defined? It seems to me that the field's strength would never actually be zero, but would grow more infintessimally weak.

          And what is interesting beyond heliopause? Would there be some observable effect on the satellite? Or is it just that we no longer have to worry about Sol pulling Pioneer 10 back in?

        • by gorilla ( 36491 )
          Magenetic fields never end. Inverse cube law all the way out to the end of the universe.
      • Lots out there (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jjtime4sko ( 321416 )
        Well, nothing you can see. The edge of the heliosphere (where the electromagnetic influence of the sun gets overwhelemed by background radiation) has long been a holy grail for astrophysicists. Pioneer 10 has the instruments on board to sense the edge, if only we could communicate with it.
  • by Rand Race ( 110288 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:30PM (#4915570) Homepage
    I've got a working C-64 that's been through a dozen moves, an infinite number of Jumpman inspired rages, and two boys' adolescensce. Space? Hah!

  • Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."

    Good thing the US mint started printing those 10 million dollar bills. I'd hate to have pay for it in 10's and 20's.
  • Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy.

    Manufacturers can make equipment this sturdy today. But are you willing to use an 8088 running at 4.77 Mhz? And if not, how much will you pay to get 30 years of service out of more modern processors and peripherals. Pioneer 10 cost $200 million [nasa.gov] to build in the 1970s.
  • poor nasa (Score:5, Funny)

    by greechneb ( 574646 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:32PM (#4915606) Journal
    You raise a child, send them off, and they don't even call home that often, and when they do, they can't even understand them...

  • by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:33PM (#4915610)
    I'm Not DEAD YET!

  • Reliability (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrResistor ( 120588 ) <peterahoff&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:33PM (#4915614) Homepage
    Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy.

    Who says they don't? I'd say that the fact that you won't be using the same computer 30 years from now has very little to do with reliability. In which case, why bother designing for a 30 year lifespan?

  • by craenor ( 623901 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:34PM (#4915625) Homepage
    It must be a man, it waited this long to ask for directions...and then it had to whisper.
  • by Zerbey ( 15536 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:35PM (#4915637) Homepage Journal
    From the Pioneer Status [nasa.gov] web page:

    Pioneer 10 distance from Sun : 81.86 AU Speed relative to the Sun: 12.228km/sec (27,355 mph) Distance from Earth: 12.10 billion kilometers (7.52 billion miles) Round-trip Light Time: 22 hours 25 minutes

    There was one more Pioneer 10 contact on 12/5/02. The Deep Space Station (DSS) near Madrid (DSS-63) found the signal but could not lock onto the receiver, and so no telemetry was received. The signal level was just under the threshold value. The uplink from DSS-14 at Goldstone, sent 12/4/02 at a power level of 325 kw, confirmed that the spacecraft signal is still there (Round Trip Light Time = 22 hr 24 min).

    Project Phoenix also picked up the signal from Pioneer 10 at Arecibo in Puerto Rico.

    LARRY LASHER, PIONEER PROJECT MANAGER

    (Copyright NASA)
  • Where is it going? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:35PM (#4915647) Journal
    Where exactly is the Pioneer headed to. Is it intended to eventually make a circular path and eventually head home, or will it just continue to wander out into space? If we could start planting satellites in circular synchronous orbits, perhaps we could eventually have a transmission array that could gradually extend throughout the solar system.

    Sending out probes is cool when we can collect info, but it's not really useful if the data isn't able to be processed. A probe that wanders away isn't really very useful, unless perhaps somebody picks it up and sends it home or comes to visit.
    • by MrGeetee ( 606644 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:41PM (#4915706)
      Where exactly is the Pioneer headed to. Is it intended to eventually make a circular path and eventually head home, or will it just continue to wander out into space?

      In about 2 million years it'll be in the vicinity of Aldebaran. It was sent out originally as a deep space probe.

      Sending out probes is cool when we can collect info, but it's not really useful if the data isn't able to be processed.

      Just finding it is useful information. From this, physicists can map its path and start to make observations of what space is actually like out there. They have used the some sparse readings in the past to investigate everything from cosmic rays to gravitational mechanics.

    • by gorilla ( 36491 )
      Just continue to wander out in space. In order to 'turn around', there would have to be an object out there for it to interact with, and there isn't. The last chance for it to do so was when it swung around Jupiter in 1973. That was it's primary mission, to study Jupiter. The design didn't allow Pioneer to orbit Jupiter like Galileo did, so it had to swing out into space. They used it to study the outer solar system between 1973 and 1997, but that was just becaue it was available.
    • by gilroy ( 155262 )
      Blockquoth the poster:

      Where exactly is the Pioneer headed to. Is it intended to eventually make a circular path and eventually head home, or will it just continue to wander out into space?

      Pioneer 10 was meant to do a fly-by of Jupiter and Saturn. To quote [nasa.gov] the current project manager,

      "Pioneer 10 was only intended to last 21 months, but it's been going for nearly 30 years."

      So it's going wherever it happens to be headed, but we didn't send it that way on purpose.
  • Trust the data? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by webword ( 82711 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:37PM (#4915667) Homepage
    "On the rare occasions when astronomers have coaxed even sparse data from Pioneer 10 in recent years, they have used the readings to investigate everything from cosmic rays to chaos theory to gravitational mechanics."

    Are we getting accurate data? Do we know that the data coming back is reliable? Should we trust Pioneer 10 and the data that it is sending us? Note: I'm glad it is still operating. That really is a feat. But, we should temper our enthusiam with a heatlhy dose of skepticism.
  • by yngv ( 320015 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:42PM (#4915707)
    send out another multi-million dollar spacecraft out toward Pioneer 10 that will send a signal yelling "WHAT????"
  • Signal strenght? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jonr ( 1130 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:42PM (#4915710) Homepage Journal
    Apart from all the moronic comments about sturdy computers (Nice going Irishman, trolling in the story), Isn't this a clue about the silence in space? You know, the Drake equation [seds.org]? How strong must a signal be, to be heard? Pioneer is only 2x orbit of Pluto away from the Sun, and already impossible to listen to. Nearest star [anzwers.org] is 4.2 light years away, and nearest galaxy [space.com] is "just" 75,000 light years away. How strong signal would be needed to communicate these distances. I know the Pioneer signal is only a few milli (micro?) watts, but still...
    J.
    • by Flakeloaf ( 321975 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:52PM (#4915842) Homepage
      True, radio communications just aren't going to cut it. We can pick up radio-type signals from stars, but these are... well, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking stars. This probe is a walkie-talkie with a half-dead 9 volt battery in comparison.

      Any signal that's actually going to get anywhere would either:

      - be optical
      - be based on some kind of technology we haven't invented yet
      - be repeated through a series of probes orbiting around other celestial bodies that do not generate significant EM interference themselves
      • True, radio communications just aren't going to cut it. We can pick up radio-type signals from stars, but these are... well, not to put too fine a point on it, fucking stars.

        I seem to recall reading that Earth outshines the sun in certain radio bands. Citation lost to the mists of time.

        You could beamcast signals to another star easily enough, especially with a (very large) space-based dish. The problem is aperture size, not source power per se (you want the beam to have low divergence). While optical transmission doesn't require as large a dish for a given divergence, it does require far more energy to be detectable. You have to be bright enough to put a minimum of about 10 photons per $sample_period per $detector_area at the destination star system to be detected, and visible photons are many orders of magnitude more energetic. (I'm assuming we're doing detection by correlating many samples, instead of trying to dump enough energy to outshine the Sun in one pulse).

        Broadcasting instead of beamcasting, we'd need vastly more power to be detectable at all.
      • A new NASA mission? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by swb ( 14022 )
        Would it be worthwhile for Nasa to put a few communications satellites capable of relaying around some of the more distant planets? Obviously the number and which ones would depend on where the planets were relative to earth and the objects you wanted to relay from.

        They could be used for deep space probe communications or even for SETI-like stuff.

    • Re:Signal strenght? (Score:4, Informative)

      by jdludlow ( 316515 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:08PM (#4915984)
      From the link I posted earlier. [nasa.gov]

      Communications were maintained via (1) the omnidirectional and medium-gain antennas which operated together while connected to one receiver and (2) the high-gain antenna which was connected to another receiver. These receivers could be interchanged by command to provide some redundancy. Two radio transmitters, coupled to two traveling-wave tube amplifiers, produced 8 W at 2292 MHz each. Uplink was accomplished at 2110 MHz, while data transmission downlink was at 2292 MHz. The data were received by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) at bit rates up to 2048 bps enroute to Jupiter and at 16 bps near end of the mission.

    • The Pioneer 10 signal is 4 watts. It's 7.5 BILLION miles away. Intentional attempts at interstellar communication are almost certainly going to use something stronger than a mouse fart.
    • Re:Signal strenght? (Score:5, Informative)

      by krlynch ( 158571 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:39PM (#4916252) Homepage

      It doesn't say anything of the kind. The RF power output of Pioneer is miniscule:

      Two radio transmitters, coupled to two traveling-wave-tube power amplifiers, each produced 8 W of transmitted power at S-band. source [utexas.edu]

      So, we are picking up a signal from either an 8W or 16W transmitter (not quite sure if they are both used at the same time), 12 billion kilometers away. We talk to the Pioneers by sending a 325,000W signal. More power, more distance before it attenuates below the noise floor. Pump out enough power in a tight enough beam, and there isn't any reason to believe that we couldn't send signals all the way to the nearest few stars. Round Trip Time would be a bit of a pain, not to mention the time it might take to translate on both ends, but not technologically infeasible.

      Exactly how much power you would have to transmit to be heard depends on many factors, such as the frequency chosen (which might be attenuated or masked by interstellar phenomena), the sensitivity of the receiver, the size of receiving dish, the directionality of the beam, the length of the transmission, the properties of the error correcting codes, the mathematical properties of the transmission (whether it could be distinguished from physical processes even IF it is received) etc. etc. etc. So I can't give you a single answer.

  • They do (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sivar ( 316343 ) <(moc.liamg]) (ta) ([snrubnselrahc)> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:43PM (#4915733)
    "Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."

    It's called the Compaq Nonstop Himalaya. [compaq.com] Each processor runs every calculation twice, in parallel, and compares the answers when done--if they do not match, it tries again. If they do not match again, the processor state is saved then restored in one of the "hotspare" processors. The memory uses a special, extra high-reliability (and extra slow) ECC algorithm. The server itself has integrated battery backup, variable speed fans which adjust for the death of other fans, and each system is immensely expandable without ever being rebooted or shut down.
    An acquaintance of mine works for a company which has a Nonstop with an uptime of nearly ten years.
    Remember the Tandem?

    Note that the Nonstop isn't much more reliable than IBM's Z series mainframes, which basically never die either.

    Ironic, isn't it, that a company famous for making desktops which are essentially crap, makes one of the most reliable servers on earth?

    Er, back on topic, isn't Voyager significantly farther from the sun than Pioneer 10?
    • Re:They do (Score:3, Interesting)

      by haggar ( 72771 )
      But as far as I know, the Himalaya was a project from DEC. Compaq had no input to the project, they just aquired it with DEC and let the original engineers continue working on it.
  • Sturdy Computers? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by covertlaw ( 599559 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:44PM (#4915742)
    Apple //e has been running good now for 17 years, no crashes yet, still reads the original 5 1/4 inch "An Introduction" DSDD disk too. 128KB RAM with the 80 column extension card, DuoDisk dual drive, real Apple RGB monitor that still has good color.

    Macs have nothing on the Apple // series. I've seen too many with broken floppy drives (the original "SuperDrive") and burned out logic boards and power supplies.

    The Apple // series was the pinnacle of 'Keep It Simple Stupid' computing. Maybe if NASA kept its newer probes to the Pioneer/Voyager KISS philosophy they wouldn't be crashing into Mars or simply crashing their programs.

    Simplicity = reliability

  • by Niles_Stonne ( 105949 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:44PM (#4915743) Homepage

    "Can you hear me now?"

  • Sturdiness (Score:3, Informative)

    by EnglishTim ( 9662 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:44PM (#4915746)
    I'm sure that you can get almost anything you like as sturdy as Pioneer 10 if you're prepared to spend $300 million on getting it built...

    (Pioneer 10 cost $75 million [nasa.gov] in the 1970s - which corresponds to something like $300 million today.)
  • Quality Costs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:48PM (#4915795) Homepage
    People don't buy quality, they tend to buy the cheapest they can get away with.
    The Pioneer project wasn't cheap, they got what they paid for.

    Computers I don't care, they're so cheap, and advancing so quickly I only need it to last 2-3 years. I would like my hard drive to last a bit longer, but the rest who cares.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:51PM (#4915829)
    (or at least they did)
    They were called PDP-11's. I believe it was a story linked here of a PDP-11 that had been running a steel mill for over 20 years and was entombed in a brick room with no entryway. When the thing finally threw something they asked for replacement parts because if the thing had run that long without problems why replace it?
  • by missing000 ( 602285 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:54PM (#4915857)
    "But Pioneer 10, now more than twice the distance from the sun as Pluto, continues to serve a valuable scientific function as it approaches the edge of the solar system."

    I don't understand this.
    Is the solar system larger than the orbit of Pluto? If so, what defines it?
    • by milesbparty ( 527555 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:20PM (#4916079)
      Is the solar system larger than the orbit of Pluto? If so, what defines it?

      I'm no expert, but I believe that the edge of the solar system is generally considered where the sun no longer has any influence. Beyond Pluto (Pluto is about 39.5 AU from the sun) the sun continues to have influence in the form of solar wind (thought to go out to around 100 AU). Many scientists also believe that many object exist outside the orbit of Pluto.
    • Your question is a good one. What does define our Sun's reach?
      Here is an earlier article on /. regarding the Solar System and Kuiper Belt. I has links to three sites with detailed info.

      http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/10/0 7/162222&mode=thread&tid=160
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/2306945.stm
      http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=1 5587
      http://www.smh.com.au/cgi-bin/common/popupPrintArt icle.pl?path=/articles/2002/10/08/1033538897644.ht ml
  • Reliability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <<imipak> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:58PM (#4915894) Homepage Journal
    They can, but the reasons they don't are not those others have given.


    The transputer, for example, was mathematically proven correct, and cost $15 a chip. Given that a T400 was as powerful as an 80486, several years before Intel made any, it's pretty obvious cost isn't the reason.


    (The transputer was a marvel, for its time - it was linearly scalable, regardless of number. 1000 of them would give you the same performance as a Cray 1, for 1% of the cost.)


    The reason is complexity. Mathematical proofs aren't trivial, so few chip companies bother. It's simpler to ship defective goods, and hope nobody notices. Notice I'm saying "simpler", not "cheaper". Mathematicians aren't much more expensive than good VLSI engineers.


    Why is simple important? Because of PR. If you can get a product out fast, or a new press release out fast, then that's Good Business. Taking your time to get it right doesn't fill newspaper columns. Nobody ever wrote an editorial on how so-and-so proved the ALU free of bugs. They =WILL= write plenty on Intel/whoever releasing the latest nth generation processor, even if their last release was the month before.


    The cost of replacement is about the same as the cost of getting it right, but the PR life-cycle is much faster, and so gets more attention & higher stock value.


    For those of you who have chosen "popular" over "quality" in any part of your life, you know the lure, even though you know the real price you'll pay in the end.

  • by wdr1 ( 31310 ) <wdr1@pobox.cHORSEom minus herbivore> on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @12:58PM (#4915897) Homepage Journal
    Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy.

    I'm sure if you're willing to pay $350 million [nasa.gov], most PC makers would be willing to work with you on that.

    Considering I paid roughly 0.00000228% of that, I'm willing to deal with a reboot every month or so.

    -Bill
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:00PM (#4915915) Homepage Journal
    Pioneer 10:
    I sense a slashdot dupe [slashdot.org].

    Mods, and idiots, I know its about galileo, but if you read the actual post, it mentions (with the same link as this article): Meanwhile they also contacted pioneer 10 (64 bytes from pioneer10.nasa.gov: icmp_seq=1 ttl=255 time=80700000 ms)" .
  • by Filly-O-Fish ( 27215 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:06PM (#4915965) Journal
    C'mon, it's been out there for 30 years;

    It must have bumped into the big black wall with starts painted on it by now.

  • Hardware? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AyeRoxor! ( 471669 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:32PM (#4916189) Journal
    "Now if only computer manufacturers could make equipment even remotely this sturdy."

    Barring the radiation from space and other warranty-voiders, PC hardware has (except for the occasional bad capacitors [e-insite.net]) been very sturdy. My PCjr still runs, my Leading Edge XT still runs. What is so unreal that I cannot even fathom it, is that the software has run on this thing for as long as it has, without getting corrupted, always booting fine when they need to reboot, etc. Only now in this late hour are major companies starting to remember the K.I.S.S. Principle [tuxedo.org] that led their forefathers, and in doing so, counting on linux. The fewer variables, the more dependable the result.
  • Hyper-Gravity (Score:3, Informative)

    by naNoox ( 223207 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @01:38PM (#4916240)
    There is an interesting (older) article [cnn.com] linked from this one regarding the fact that both Pioneer probes (10 and 11) are closer than they should be based on the laws of gravity and Newtonian physics. JPL scientists postulate the existence of some sort of "hyper-gravity", as the effect has been shown equivalent on both probes, although each was sent in opposite directions.

    It would be interesting to find out whether this effect has also been observed on the Voyager probe which surpassed both Pioneer probes as the most distant man-made object in 1998. //Nanoox
  • by io333 ( 574963 ) on Wednesday December 18, 2002 @03:57PM (#4917549)
    The greatest question of all time is: "Are we alone?"

    That's really the other ultimate goal of space exploration, isn't it? (The first goal is to find us a new place to live after the earth is used up).

    But there is such a simple way to answer the question: Take all the cash we are using on rediculous stuff like the ISS and:

    BUILD A GIANT TELESCOPE IN SPACE OR ON THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON.

    And I mean BIG.

    One so Hugeomegagigantic that it can actually SEE the surface of extra solar earth sized planets in detail to pick out cities, roads, and lights.

    And then, if we saw with our own eyes that there was another civilization -- imagine the space program we'd start to have then. ...and yes I know the dark side of the moon isn't always dark, but we'd want to cut down on earthshine too probably... ...and imagine a beo [smack

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