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Space Science

Voyager Probes Give Us ET's View 166

astroengine writes "For the first time, scientists have been able to measure a type of radiation streaming out from the Milky Way that in other galaxies has been linked to the birthplaces of young, hot stars. There was no way to make our own galaxy's measurement of the radiation, known as Lyman-alpha, until the Voyager probes were about 40 times as far away from the sun as Earth — any closer and the solar system's own emissions drowned out the fainter glow from the galaxy."
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Voyager Probes Give Us ET's View

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  • So Cool... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by steevven1 ( 1045978 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:06AM (#38235138) Homepage
    Voyager has to be the coolest space probe ever. It's been operating for 34 years straight and is LEAVING OUR GALAXY, still receiving commands from Earth and still transmitting data back. If that's not marvelous, I don't know what is. Anyone interested should read: []
  • Re:So Cool... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by steevven1 ( 1045978 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:09AM (#38235146) Homepage
    Correction: solar system, not galaxy. D'oh!
  • Impressive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PortaDiFerro ( 1719902 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:22AM (#38235182)
    That must be one of the most successful space exploration projects so far, too bad it's running out of juice!
  • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:27AM (#38235200)

    We could cheaply launch 10's of much faster probes with incrementally better sensors for the price of the voyager program (~$3B in today's dollars).

              I am not sure why you say that. The costs of space technology haven't changed much at all relative to the rate of inflation, and there haven't been any important breakthroughs in launchers. The only thing consequentially different is computer capability, but a faster/more complex computer would just as likely be a liability as a bonus. Software design techniques, if anything, have gone rapidly backwards for this sort of application since the late 70s/early 80s.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:51AM (#38235270) Homepage

    Software design techniques, if anything, have gone rapidly backwards for this sort of application since the late 70s/early 80s.

    I'd say the Mars rovers are a good counterexample of that, they're "new" and have been operating for many, many years now. Particularly when it comes to data compression the current probes have a huge leg up on the old ones. That said, yeah computers can't rewrite physics and launching anything into space is still quite expensive and they don't really go faster from it either.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 02, 2011 @03:52AM (#38235272)

    > What's to keep enemies of the United States from sending it bad instructions, or from collecting all data it sends back to us?

    The fact that they are so far away that talking or listening to the Voyagers _REQUIRES_ a POINTABLE satellite dish 70 fucking meters in diameter. Only three that big exist in the world, and guess who owns them?

  • by Shadowmist ( 57488 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @07:51AM (#38235952)

    Last I heard, the voyagers are about 100-110 AUs from the sun. Is the summary incorrect or do you only need to be 40 AUs from the sun to make these measurments? In which case, why is it news now and not in the 80s/90s when they reached this distance?

    Presumably because it's only recently that they discovered techniques to make these observations with the remaining equipment on board. Voyager is now making measurements it was never designed to. Keep in mind that the engineers who built these ships did not expect them to last as long as they did, nor that we would still be able to get useful signal strength from them at this point. Also remember that with the twin factors of half life decay and thermocouple degradation, they're only getting about half the power from the RTG's that they used to, so some equipment has had to have been permanently turned off.

  • Re:ET's View (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Friday December 02, 2011 @09:27AM (#38236330)

    This [] seems to be a pretty good description of the Voyager telecom system. Based on this, the X-band transmitter provides 18 watts to the high-gain antenna, which has a gain of 48 dB, for an effective radiated power of just over 18 * 10^(48/10) = 1.1 megawatts. (At least at launch; I assume the output power will have fallen somewhat over the intervening decades, as the RTG output falls and RF components age.)

    This sounds like a healthy amount of power, and it is, but keep in mind that antenna gain comes easy at X-band (8 GHz), and such ERP levels are common in terrestrial point-to-point microwave links. Also keep in mind that the half-power beamwidth of the high-gain antenna is only 0.5 degrees, so any alien not in that narrow beam would hear substantially nothing.

    Also, to answer your direct question, the frequencies and beam shapes are different, and one has to consider the shielding effects of the ionosphere vs. frequency, but just to compare (US regulations, YMMV): AM broadcast stations (~1 MHz) are usually limited to 10 kW with more-or-less 0 dB gain antennas, for an ERP of 10 kW; but UHF TV stations (~500 MHz) may have an ERP of up to 5 MW.

    Of course, there are a zillion broadcast stations, all transmitting non-coherently (some would say incoherently), but only two Voyagers, so that would have to be taken into account, too.

  • by dmatos ( 232892 ) on Friday December 02, 2011 @01:37PM (#38239886)

    This is indeed correct. Radiation hard electronics are created at the microchip layout and design level, rather than with external shielding. It requires an understanding of the damage that occurs from ionizing radiation and high-energy particles, and implementing device layouts that are tolerant of that damage.

    Let me give you a little hint: current generation designs with tiny FETs and low voltage drivers cannot operate for very long when the gate Vts start to shift.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre