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Voyager Set To Enter Interstellar Space

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the ok-but-you're-still-in-my-comfort-zone dept.

NASA 362

Phoghat writes "More than 30 years after they were launched, NASA's two Voyager probes have traveled to the edge of the solar system and are on the doorstep of interstellar space. Today, April 28, 2011, NASA held a live briefing to reflect on what the Voyager mission has accomplished — and to preview what lies ahead as the probes prepare to enter the realm of the Milky Way itself."

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362 comments

Let me say (5, Insightful)

milbournosphere (1273186) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970714)

Congratulations to the engineers working on the original project all those years ago. I couldn't fathom designing something like this with the toolset they had 30+ years ago. Props to them for creating a set of probes that are still relevant 30 years after their launch.

Re:Let me say (3, Insightful)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970782)

An example of reliable code and engineering.

It is a shame that programmers and engineers do not design and code their products so that they will be reliable.

How many times did they have to reboot Voyager?

Re:Let me say (-1, Troll)

microcuts (1991026) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970792)

An example of reliable code and engineering.

It is a shame that programmers and engineers do not design and code their products so that they will be reliable.

How many times did they have to reboot Voyager?

i...just.... do you even listen to yourself when you talk?

Re:Let me say (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970960)

He meant "modern programmers" in his second sentence. Pretty obvious.

Re:Let me say (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971302)

Don't you mean "read yourself when you type" ?

Re:Let me say (1)

euroq (1818100) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970824)

You forgot to post as an anonymous coward.

Re:Let me say (-1, Offtopic)

md65536 (670240) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970838)

Does every conversation on slashdot have to turn into a tirade about how stupid and frustrating and awful and shoddy and worthless and disappointing and shitty and aggravating and horrible windows is? We know already! It's also despicable and unreliable and saddening and ugly and untrustworthy and pernicious and inadequate and etc etc etc...

Re:Let me say (4, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970880)

Does every conversation on slashdot have to turn into a tirade about how stupid and frustrating and awful and shoddy and worthless and disappointing and shitty and aggravating and horrible windows is? We know already! It's also despicable and unreliable and saddening and ugly and untrustworthy and pernicious and inadequate and etc etc etc...

Take your blinkers off. It's not just Windows.

Re:Let me say (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971078)

Does every conversation on slashdot have to turn into a tirade about how stupid and frustrating and awful and shoddy and worthless and disappointing and shitty and aggravating and horrible windows is? We know already! It's also despicable and unreliable and saddening and ugly and untrustworthy and pernicious and inadequate and etc etc etc...

Take your blinkers off. It's not just Windows.

Fine. Would you pay $1,000 for a DVD player that will last 20+ years?

Re:Let me say (2)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971134)

My Dad gave me his record player from the 70s. It is a direct drive pioneer, and works just fine to this day. It also didn't cost $1,000 - not even when adjusted for inflation. I asked him, but he said he didn't own a DVD player back then, but the 16mm films he has still play fine too. They didn't cost $1,000 either.

Re:Let me say (2)

yodleboy (982200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971364)

they are all designed to wear out. We usually throw on a DVD each night when we go to bed. We would set the sleep timer on the TV so it would power off, but the poor DVD players had no such option. They'd finish the movie, then spin the disk all night long displaying the menu. Inevitably, they'd burn out. We've probably gone through 7 or 8 dvd players in the bedroom. When we decided to throw a blu-ray player in there we did what we SHOULD have done from the beginning. We got a timer for the outlet and set it to kill the power for 5 min every night at 1 AM.

Would I have paid more for a dvd player with bomb proof internals, sure. Unfortunately, we tried a range from $25 dollar cheapies to a $200 one and there was never any rhyme or reason to how long before failure. The shortest time was about 3 months, the longest probably 2 years for a midpriced one we got at Frys.

So, in the end we've found a way to stop eating players (that and watching a lot of netflix helped) . HOWEVER this could have all been avoided with a few lines of code to add a sleep timer, or to turn the thing off if it's been sitting at the root menu for more than an hour would have gone a long way and I was always frustrated that no DVD player seemed to have this. Of course, the faster it dies (without being TOOO soon and ending up a warranty item) the faster you pay to replace it...

Re:Let me say (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970884)

The thing is *NONE* of the other OS's are 'reliable' either. Linux is a huge conflicted mess of leet devs trying to come up with ever cooler interfaces. Mac keeps changing itself just enough so no one wants to write software for it. And windows dont get me started...

Just works is all I ask. After my 5th blue screen of the day because of some f'n driver I am a bit pissed.

(hey you started it :))

Re:Let me say (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971156)

Web 2.0 sucks too. Like now on slashdot if I feel like reading an article without logging in because I'm on a different computer or for whatever reason, I can't make the slider move so that I can see all the comments. I have to click on each one to expand it. But I like to read without having to opt in to read every comment. It's a lot more effort and detracts from what I want to do, which is concentrate on reading the comments (ALL the comments), without having to keep my hands on the mouse pad to click on each hidden comment. Why do the slashdot editors want to take away my choice of how to read the site, forcing me to log in, forcing me to undergo artificial delays before posting if I choose not to log it? Slashdot was much better in the old days :(

Re:Let me say (5, Informative)

slew (2918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971000)

How many times did they have to reboot Voyager?

In case you didn't know, it wasn't a reboot, but there was a problem where they actually did have to live patch the voyager 2 computer [nasa.gov] last year for a bit-flip problem...

Of course this was discussed previously [slashdot.org]

Although that's impressive, in general, the SW architecture of voyager is quite complicated and fragile, and during the operation, several mistakes have been made one of which caused the primary receiver on Voyager 2 to be accidently shut down, never to work again (so it's relying on a backup which has a faultly frequency tuning circuit which they compensate in software).

It's really only heroics which keep these probes up and running. The original engineering, while impressive, is really not the thing that's keeping things working now...

MOD UP (please) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971022)

N/T

Re:Let me say (1, Insightful)

dissy (172727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971316)

It is a shame that programmers and engineers do not design and code their products so that they will be reliable.

But on the other hand, I can't say I am willing to pay $2 million for a copy of Windows, which is likely the cost per user if it really was designed by the same people and to the same standards as the Voyager code.

It's not cheap to design and develop bug free code. NASA had some very smart people working on these problems for quite some time.

Granted, there are plenty of areas outside of commercial software like Word, where reliability is not just important but critical. While a good amount is designed well and quite reliable, I'll admit it is not as often as it really should be. The insanely huge cost is justified.

Re:Let me say (5, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971318)

"It is a shame that programmers and engineers do not design and code their products so that they will be reliable."

Speak for yourself.

Some of us take pride in our work and write fast, reliable software that runs on servers for multiple years without interference.

Re:Let me say (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971340)

Bang on.

Re:Let me say (5, Insightful)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970796)

It may have been a less advanced toolset, but the mindset back them was what really made it work. Back then, anything was possible, even expensive research unlikely to have any direct benifits. Now? If it isn't going to make a profit next month, trash it. Fuck the modern era. We did more with slide rules and determination than we do now with modern technology.

Re:Let me say (4, Funny)

md65536 (670240) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970898)

But the modern version would automatically update its Twitter account from space!

Re:Let me say (0)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970956)

Why hasn't someone done this already?!

Stupid kids and their little evolutionary products, think they're so advanced and modern. What a bunch of garbage that is this generation.

Re:Let me say (5, Funny)

Toam (1134401) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971190)

"Just passing Uranus LOL"

Re:Let me say (0)

Anne Honime (828246) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971326)

You should be modded +6 funny

Re:Let me say (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971282)

Geroffmylawn, you mean? :-)

Re:Let me say (1)

FrankDrebin (238464) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971330)

You have a decent point, but a very important, unmoveable deadline also kept the engineers on track: the alignment of the outer planets imposed a certain launch window.

Re:Let me say (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970820)

You know, they weren't club-wielding savages in loincloths back then.The most important tools they had back then were:

1) A university system that wasn't designed to maximize profit therefore bringing in anyone into EE. Only actual engineers made it back then. The engineer working on the other system wasn't a dumbass.

2) Computers and software were simpler and easier to understand instead of the morass of chaotic, barely-functioning layers of unknown code we have today.

3) They had SPICE back then!

4) Plenty enough technology to do what was needed.

Re:Let me say (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970934)

And as we all know, spice is an important part of space travel.

Re:Let me say (2)

infolation (840436) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971020)

The gold phonograph contains a recording of the brain waves of a young woman in love.

Re:Let me say (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971150)

Interstellar Porn!

Re:Let me say (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971158)

I was lucky to find a copy of Carl Sagan's book Murmurs of Earth in my local library years ago. It is a fantastic read and I would recommend it to anybody.

Re:Let me say (1)

slapout (93640) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970962)

And slide rules! Don't forget the slide rules.

Re:Let me say (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971126)

And slide rules! Don't forget the slide rules.

I won't. I was sitting in the coffee shop, figuring some stuff out with one just the other day.

Re:Let me say (2)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971152)

They also loved in an age where beating the Soviets in science and technology was considered more important than building the next iDink consumer device, or concocting some alchemical algorithm for market traders.

The best talent available to us is being wasted on pointless commercialism.

Re:Let me say (2)

The_REAL_DZA (731082) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971184)

You know, they weren't club-wielding savages in loincloths back then.

Stone knives and bearskins, son, stone knives and bearskins. And that's the way we liked it, too! None of this mamby-pamby object-oriented whoopsiedoodle; we entered our code changes by tapping out ones and zeros under a microscope (optical, of course, you insensitive clod!) using a cat's whisker. Why, I'd give you a real old-school lesson in how-to-get-it-done-and-done-right-the-first-time-ness, but I've gotta go chase some darned kids outta my yard!!

Re:Let me say (2)

nanospook (521118) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971280)

You had a keyboard? We didn't have one, we just tapped the two wires together in morse code to control the keypuncher monkey thing..

Re:Let me say (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971342)

we entered our code changes by tapping out ones and zeros under a microscope (optical, of course, you insensitive clod!) using a cat's whisker

You had cats?

Re:Let me say (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971268)

If you're referring to the SPICE toolkit, we're even still using it.

Re:Let me say (3, Informative)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970914)

More then likely written in pure Assembler or Machine Code. Hand Debugged, Hand Optimized back when software engineers were programmers in the very real sense of the word.

Although unconfirmed AFAIK the whole thing is run on a RCA CDP1802, also known as the COSMAC (Complementary Symmetry Monolithic Array Computer) [wikipedia.org] and at this moment the entire spacecraft runs on +/- 275 watts of power at 30 Volts DC which is pretty damn amazing.

Put that in your god damn JVM/Python/PHP/Erlang/Lang De Jur pipe and smoke it ya damn weenies!

Re:Let me say (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971054)

I am not quite sure what you are talking about in terms of "toolset they had 30 years ago". There have been relatively few relevant improvements since then. The only thing that is better is computer processing power, and that is very much a mixed blessing.

Re:Let me say (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971162)

Seriously. Let me know how your i7 holds up to space radiation....

Re:Let me say (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971244)

Voyager FAQ [nasa.gov] answers the question "What kind of computers are used on the Voyager spacecraft?" It's more detailed than the lay explanation I expected — very interesting indeed!

Beautiful (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970716)

And with a vacuum tube final stage RF amplifier too.

Re:Beautiful (2)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970900)

Funny you would use a vacuum tube in ... a nearly perfect vacuum....

Re:Beautiful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970916)

They tried filled tubes first but when the signal failed to come out they switched to filling tubes with vacuum.

Re:Beautiful (2, Insightful)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970922)

Best part is that if the tube cracks because of some thermal stress from years of heat cycles... Still in a vacuum! bonus

Re:Beautiful (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971238)

Uh, pretty much all high-power communication amplifiers still use vacuum tubes*, and we're not talking the 12AX7-type you'd see in Bender's guts as a kitschy joke.

* Wiki or Google "Klystron tube" and "Travelling wave tube" for more info.

Just wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970742)

The real challenge will be getting them back from the delta quadrant.

Re:Just wait (3, Funny)

txoof (553270) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970844)

I for one look forward to meeting our new Whale Loving overlords.

Re:Just wait (3)

md65536 (670240) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970874)

The real challenge will be dealing with the alien race of machines who interface with it and set out on a destructive journey toward Earth in order to contact its creator.

Is V'Ger tied in with the Borg? (1)

jmcbain (1233044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970928)

I never followed this part of the Trek continuum very closely. Is V'Ger tied in with the Borg somehow? I remember in ST:TMP that V'Ger had visited a "planet of living machines".

Re:Is V'Ger tied in with the Borg? (1)

slapout (93640) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970978)

Personally, I try to forget ST:Voyager. Oh wait, you're talking about something different...

Re:Is V'Ger tied in with the Borg? (2)

Hamsterdan (815291) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970990)

According to "The Return" by William Shatner, yes...

http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/V'Ger#Background_information [memory-alpha.org]

Makes more sense anyways than when they tried to explain why Klingons looked different in the train-wreck that was ST:Enterprise...

Ive allready seen this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970750)

Klingons fly past and use one of them for target practice.

Re:Ive allready seen this (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971062)

That was a Pioneer -- the Voyagers don't have pictures of nekkid people bolted directly to the side.

I know (2)

deodiaus2 (980169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970772)

I saw it on Star Trek, TMP!

Re:I know (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970876)

I saw it on Star Trek, TMP!

...and as long as it stays on Star Trek and doesn't move to "Voyager: Excrement my dad says", it'll be just fine!

What exists beyond? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970822)

There's an element of poetry in this, as science reaches a hand farther then it ever has before. Where man, or man's creation in service to its master, has gone farther then we ever have. What exists beyond the dark? Perhaps we've seen, but we do not know

For so long we've merely watched and speculated. We've guessed and hypothesized. But now, we armchair cosmonauts will get a chance to know in a way that has long eluded us. To scratch the heavens with our nails rather than merely gaze in awe.

Is something out there? Beyond the fields we know? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Let us firmly take this step and, through all this, continue to hope. To dream. To strive.

(Heh, how fitting. My captcha was allegory.)

Re:What exists beyond? (4, Informative)

txoof (553270) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970896)

Radio Lab has a great episode [radiolab.org] interviewing Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow, regarding her part in developing the sound recordings for the voyager mission. She beautifully captures the art and love inherent in such an awesome act of science and exploration. If you have a free few minutes, you won't be sorry you listened.

won't fly forever (4, Interesting)

melikamp (631205) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970846)

I bet Voyagers won't fly forever. When space travel become cheap and safe enough, they will be seen as collectible items, and will be recovered. The two golden records will probably become the most expensive records money can buy.

Re:won't fly forever (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970878)

Only if the RIAA claims they own the copyright to them... and we know they will

They already have (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970986)

NASA was got a take-down order when they posted the contents a few years back.

Re:won't fly forever (2)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971088)

Several of the compositions on the record are protected by master rights and were licensed specifically for the record, which is why you can't buy a CD of the Voyager Golden Record -- the recordings aren't licensed for sale.

RIAA doesn't own the copyright to any music.

Re:won't fly forever (2)

The_REAL_DZA (731082) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971218)

RIAA doesn't own the copyright to any music.

Just the souls of many unfortunate artists.

Re:won't fly forever (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971368)

When space travel become cheap and safe enough, they will be seen as collectible items, and will be recovered.

I kind of have my doubts that it's ever going to be cheap to get out to where they are. Even if we reach the point (and I sincerely hope we do) where we're zipping around the inner planets the way we currently fly around the world, catching up with the Voyagers would be on a whole different order of difficulty. And the longer it takes us to to develop the technology, the farther away they get ...

not yet (3)

chowdahhead (1618447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970870)

They have a long way to go until they leave the Kuiper Belt and really reach the edge of our solar system, but impressive none the less.

Re:not yet (4, Informative)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971046)

You're probably thinking of the Oort Cloud.

From the wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

In August 2009, Voyager 1 was over 16.5 terameters (16.5×1012 meters, or 16.5×109 km, 110.7 AU, or 10.2 billion miles) from the Sun, and thus had entered the heliosheath region between solar wind's termination shock and the heliopause (the limit of the solar wind). Beyond heliopause is the bow shock of the interstellar medium, beyond which is interstellar space, a vast area where the Sun's influence gives way to that of the Milky Way galaxy in general. At this distance, light from the Sun takes over 16 hours to reach the probe.

The Kuiper belt [wikipedia.org] extends from 30 AU to 55 AU.

Re:not yet (2)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971052)

The end of the heliopause is sometimes considered the end of the solar system. Any Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud objects further out are blasted by the galactic winds at that point, they experience nothing from the solar system bar gravity and even Alpha Centauri experiences that.

Re:not yet (2, Insightful)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971110)

Every two years or so Voyager \d crosses the (heliosheath | heliopause | bow shock | edge of the cosmic wind | edge of the Oort cloud | ... ) and this arbitrary boundary is used as a pretext to run off a press release.

Nothing... (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970882)

for a LONG LONG time.

Re:Nothing... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971066)

I don't know about "nothing" - we have zero knowledge of the galactic winds. We can't even be sure that the probes won't hit a glass dome.

Re:Nothing... (1)

The_REAL_DZA (731082) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971250)

We can't even be sure that the probes won't hit a glass dome.

Maybe they already did a long time ago and the "Voyager Anomaly" is just a floating-point-error in the Matrix...

How long till (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970886)

Can anyone do the math as to how long it will take the probe to reach it's next solar system? I realize the amount of time will be insane and the probe will be most likely (read definitely) dead by then but still it's interesting.

Re:How long till (1)

Khoa (935586) | more than 3 years ago | (#35970938)

If by "dead" you mean out of juice, then yes. If you think it'd become spacecraft spaghetti then no. The odds of it bumping into another celestial is slim to nil. Space is VAST!

Re:How long till (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970996)

Can anyone do the math as to how long it will take the probe to reach it's next solar system? I realize the amount of time will be insane and the probe will be most likely (read definitely) dead by then but still it's interesting.

It's highly unlikely that it ever will. Unless you specifically aim it someplace, chances are that any object (especially if small in mass) will just go on forever not encountering any other collection of objects. There's a whole lot more empty space then there is space with stuff in it, the amount of empty space is increasing as the universe expands, and the expansion is accelerating.

Re:How long till (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971030)

Can anyone do the math as to how long it will take the probe to reach it's next solar system? I realize the amount of time will be insane and the probe will be most likely (read definitely) dead by then but still it's interesting.

It's highly unlikely that it ever will. Unless you specifically aim it someplace, chances are that any object (especially if small in mass) will just go on forever not encountering any other collection of objects. There's a whole lot more empty space then there is space with stuff in it, the amount of empty space is increasing as the universe expands, and the expansion is accelerating.

Forever is a pretty long time, If something is physically possible, eventually it will happen.

Re:How long till (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971080)

Forever is a pretty long time, If something is physically possible, eventually it will happen.

I know of several supermodels that will disagree.

Re:How long till (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971220)

article did the math for you. forty thousand years to be within 2 light years of another star system.

Re:How long till (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971024)

Relevant Wikipedia text for Voyager 1, the farther and faster of the two (taken from here [wikipedia.org] ):

As of April 21, 2011, Voyager 1 was about 116.825 AU, or about 10,843,294,886 miles or about 0.00183 of a light-year from the Sun. [...] Voyager 1's current relative velocity to the sun is 17.061 km/s, or 61,452 kilometres per hour (38,185 mph). This calculates as 3.599 AU per year, about 10% faster than Voyager 2. At this velocity, 73,600 years would pass before reaching the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, were the spacecraft traveling in the direction of that star. [...]

Voyager 1 is not heading towards any particular star, but in about 40,000 years it will pass within 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the constellation Camelopardalis. That star is generally moving towards our Solar System at about 119 kilometers per second.

You might want to take that with a grain of salt, though, since there's an incorrect calculation in part of the paragraph I didn't quote and 11 significant figures is very suspiciously precise in the miles figure. Also, the 73,600 figure doesn't agree with my own calculations in the hundreds place. But I imagine what I quoted is pretty close to the truth.

Re:How long till (1)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971050)

I've found that most people can't grasp how big space is. I can on a intellectual level but most people don't seem to understand just how distance even the closest stars are. I've met a few who thought a lightyear was the distance it took up to travel in a year in a modern space shuttle. But wow Voyager is going itno the black, I hope it doesn't turn into a Reaver.

a tall funny man noted that (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971272)

"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." -- D. Adams, HGTG

Re:How long till (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971274)

Would the same people also have ridiculously optimistic ideas about our capabilities in space, like about colonies on the Moon and Mars? And equally delusional beliefs about the human race "needing to get off this mud ball!" (all very earnest, almost religious-like), asteroid mining and space-based solar?

If so, they are Space Nutters. The best thing you can do for them is patiently try to educate them. Unless you're dealing with a Level-III Space Nutter, the kind that thinks we invented the transistor to go to the Moon and we only have computers because of Apollo, then just go drink a gin tonic and forget about it.

Re:How long till (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971320)

Yes, our smallness is astonishing. The relative difference in scale going from pencils to atoms is dwarfed by the relative difference in scale going from light-years to pencils. Very roughly, going from the size of a galaxy to the size of a person is comparable to going from the size of a person to the atomic scale twice. On the scale of galaxies, each person is an atom's atom.

Re:How long till (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971090)

It does, however, assume no significant transfer of momentum from the galactic winds to the probe, even over a 40,000 year period. I've a real hard time with that, but sadly I can't find any cryogenics facility with a 40,000 year warranty. Even then, posting the results on Slashdot might be difficult.

Re:How long till (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971256)

The source of the 40,000 figure is here [nasa.gov] , which is at least hosted on jpl.nasa.gov. I was hoping an author careful enough to include star movement was careful enough to include whatever other relevant effects may exist. You mentioned momentum transfer. Off the top of my head, there may also be electrostatic effects, gravitational fields, or a particle field drifting in some direction which may or may not modify the calculation significantly.

Re:How long till (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971204)

Can anyone do the math as to how long it will take the probe to reach it's next solar system? I realize the amount of time will be insane and the probe will be most likely (read definitely) dead by then but still it's interesting.

At its current speed, it would take tens of thousands of years to get to the nearest star. But since it's not aimed at any particular star, it would probably take many millions of years before it actually enters another solar system by chance.

I assume that the probe will gradually be eroded away over millions of years by interstellar dust, gas and radiation. I've never seen an estimate of how long it will remain recognizable, though. I wonder if it will actually ever reach another star system while it still exists.

Re:How long till (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971208)

If you watch the video on the linked page, the narrator says it will be 40,000 years.

Re:How long till (1)

bhagwad (1426855) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971356)

I wonder - 4 billion years later when (if?) our sun explodes, will it be far away enough to escape being destroyed? If so, it might be the only remnants of earth/humanity ever left.

What a waste of money! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970906)

I could have got a tax break instead!

And I for one welcome our V'ger overlord. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35970982)

Learn all that is learnable. Report that information back to the creator.

Voyagers, thank you for what you have given me (5, Interesting)

Slutticus (1237534) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971068)

The Voyager probes are approximately three months younger than me. All my life, I have followed the magical images and data these probes have been sending back to earth. In fact, it was the first images of saturn and jupiter that inspired me to be a scientist. It wasn't the pharma industry in which I work now. It wasn't the lure (lie?) of riches received for making the next big discovery. It was those probes, hurling through space sending back the most fascinating shit my young mind had ever witnessed. I spent almost my entire youth with my head buried in encyclopedias and books about astronomy, all made possible by Voyager 1 and 2. In the end I chose a different science path, but who knows...I could have ended up being a financial analyst (**shudders**)

Re:Voyagers, thank you for what you have given me (1)

Slutticus (1237534) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971084)

I forgot to mention, I'm probably going to cry when contact is lost with these guys.

Next milestone (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971086)

intergalactic space..

How much longer until it leaves the galaxy? and then the super cluster?

Re:Next milestone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971172)

intergalactic space..

How much longer until it leaves the galaxy? and then the super cluster?

reasonable while, bit longer than a walk down to the chemist....

the brain waves of a young woman in love (2)

SigmoidCurve (188795) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971100)

I'm glad they didn't decide to record the brain waves of a young *man* in love... those would certainly make the aliens skeptical about ever visiting us.

"What did we learn from this Golden Record?"
"From what we can tell, we're dealing with a race that can't concentrate, constantly listens to The Smiths, worries about its hair looking right, broods pensively throughout the day, and fears never knowing the right things to say."
"On second thought, let's head out to Ursa Minor and see if we can find any intelligent life over there."

Obligatory Star Trek Motion Picture Reference (1)

guttentag (313541) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971112)

So this is our last chance to tell it not to come back [wikipedia.org] , saving future generations a lot of trouble and past generations from a mediocre movie.

How Long ? (4, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971164)

It's not aimed at any other solar system, and the times involved are such that we can't predict what's going to happen very well.

In places like Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] you will read things like

"in about 40,000 years [Voyager 1] will pass within 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the constellation Camelopardalis."

but this is highly misleading. 1.6 light years is almost 1000 times further away from that star than either Voyager is from the Sun right now, so it won't in any sense be "in" that stellar system.

Worse, stars travel (relative to each other) at ~ 0.001 c, so even in 40,000 years all the nearby stars will move around by 10's of light years. We can estimate stellar velocities reasonably well, but their accelerations are very poorly measured, and so, after a few million years at most, we really don't know which star will go where.

The bottom line is, it will be millions of years before any of these spacecraft get as close to another star as they are now, and we have no idea which star that will be... ... unless, of course, our descendants pick them up and put them in a museum somewhere, which is what I would predict.

Shiny! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971180)

Aww hell, I been to the edge. It just looked like... more space.

Speed challenge anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35971334)

Some organization should hold a speed challenge for fasted man-made object in space -- like the land speed records on the salt lakes etc. It would be pretty neat to see what entrants do and what percentage of light speed could ultimately be attained.

My take would be to go the StarTrek approach and use chemical rockets to fly toward the sun for a sling-shot. Once around the other side pop open some real ion engines for cruise (not the puny scientific ones) -- and maybe a few more gravity assists if the planets align. Anyone care to fathom a back of the napkin calculation on the speed that such a feat would yield?

And the response from the rest of the galaxy is... (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 3 years ago | (#35971362)

And the response from the rest of the galaxy is...that Earth is slapped with a littering charge and told to go out there and collect their refuse. Ignorance of intergalactic law is no excuse.
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