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Voyager 1 Passes 100 AU from the Sun

ScuttleMonkey posted about 8 years ago | from the they-don't-build-em-like-they-used-to dept.

326

An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday, Voyager 1 passed 100 astronomical units from the sun as it continues operating after nearly 30 years in space. That is about 15 billion kilometers or 9.3 billion miles as it travels about 1 million miles per day. Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space."

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Poor V-ger (5, Funny)

Recovering Hater (833107) | about 8 years ago | (#15922315)

I wonder how long until it comes back carrying half the solar system with it looking for it's maker?

Re:Poor V-ger (5, Funny)

creimer (824291) | about 8 years ago | (#15922392)

According to the movie, about another 200 years. Meanwhile, aliens with pointy years will be dropping by in another 50 years to find a restroom.

Re:Poor V-ger (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922444)

wow, beat me too it.

Re:Poor V-ger (1)

browe (991246) | about 8 years ago | (#15922456)

Lets do the math.... It took 30 years to get there. So, if an ET finds it today and decides to take action, I guess your earliest answer will come just in time for football season in the fall of 2036. Maybe JoPa will still be coaching.

Re:Poor V-ger (3, Insightful)

Lurker2288 (995635) | about 8 years ago | (#15922511)

Nah, if there are ETs out there capable of detecting it, retrieving it, and figuring out where it came from, chances are they can manage to go a little faster than a probe that's been coasting on a gravity slingshot for 30-odd years.

Star Trek linked to pedophilia? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922687)

This has very little to do with your comment, but the L.A. Times recently published an article regarding the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit [torontopolice.on.ca] that focused on their fight against child pornography ("Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl" [pqarchiver.com] ). They are the law enforcement organization that photoshopped the victims out of child porn photos in order to get the public's assistance in identifying the backgrounds (it worked). In any case, the article had this amazing claim:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

Wow. All but one in four years. Seemed rather unlikely to me.

So, I called the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and spoke to Det. Ian Lamond, who was familiar with the Times article. He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?

Nevertheless, Det. Lamond does confirm that a majority of those arrested show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest." They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs."

Det. Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and monsters have power and where the usual rules don't apply," Bulmer reflects. "But beyond that, I can't really explain it."

I asked Det. Lamond if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek-specific.

Where do scientists think the edge is... (5, Interesting)

Mc_Anthony (181237) | about 8 years ago | (#15922324)

How many more AUs to scientists think Voyager still has to travel before it reaches the edge, or do we not have a good estimation of that distance?

If I'm a space science noob does that make me a "Universal Noob"?

Can we still ping it? (2, Informative)

HaloZero (610207) | about 8 years ago | (#15922327)

I recall some time ago reading that the total-return-time for an ICMP_ECHO_RESPONSE from voyager 1 was something in the scale of 29 minutes. I'm hoping we're still getting useful data from these devices.

Re:Can we still ping it? (1)

pe1chl (90186) | about 8 years ago | (#15922365)

29 minutes? More like 1600...

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Informative)

Elder Entropist (788485) | about 8 years ago | (#15922377)

More like 26-27 hours.

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Informative)

HaloZero (610207) | about 8 years ago | (#15922463)

Apologies, my units are off. I did intend to write 29 HOURS. Alas, stupid fingers.

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Funny)

wiggles (30088) | about 8 years ago | (#15922508)

Heh... You must work for NASA :)

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Informative)

div_2n (525075) | about 8 years ago | (#15922554)

To be exact, it would be 50,034.6s = 833m 54.6s = 13h 53m 54.6s . . . one way.

Or, 100,069.2s = 1,667m 49.2s = 27h 47m 49.2s roundtrip . . . assuming a perfect vaccum and no processing time on both ends.

Of course, these calculations are based on static distances and it would require a bit more tweaking to figure out the exact numbers to account for the delta in distance up to this minute and the delta in distance during the sending of a signal.

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Informative)

thebudgie (810919) | about 8 years ago | (#15922394)

IIRC the earth is about 8 minutes from the sun, so 100AU would be around 800 minutes, right?

Re:Can we still ping it? (1)

thebudgie (810919) | about 8 years ago | (#15922688)

And just realising that I need to consider the return time too, making it 1600 minutes. I'm silly sometimes.

Re:Can we still ping it? (1)

bean123456789 (938830) | about 8 years ago | (#15922998)

If only we had the ansible [wikipedia.org] , then you could have an interstellar frag fest!

Re:Can we still ping it? (4, Funny)

Ex Machina (10710) | about 8 years ago | (#15922421)

100 Astronomical Units = 831.675359 light minutes [google.com]


I think that exceeds the maximum RTT for TCP.

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Funny)

Ex Machina (10710) | about 8 years ago | (#15922441)

Of course, ping is ICMP not TCP and thus is not subject to this problem. Oops! But the Voyager web configuration panel won't work!

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Funny)

Java Pimp (98454) | about 8 years ago | (#15922655)

It wants you to key in the last 8 bits of your ip address manually.

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Informative)

andrewman327 (635952) | about 8 years ago | (#15922432)

I don't know where you are getting your data, but it takes substancially longer than 29 minutes! From NASA [nasa.gov] :
So how far are the Voyager spacecraft from Earth? The answer could take the form of miles or kilometers...billions of miles or kilometers. To put this large distance into a different prospective, as of January 5, 2004, a command signal sent from one of the DSN antennas, traveling at the speed of light towards Voyager-1, takes about 12 hours and 39 minutes, to reach Voyager-1's receiver. Compare this to sending a signal to Mars, a command going to the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, in orbit around Mars would only take about 15 minutes.


Considering the original expectations of the probe, we are getting amazing data! When launched, no one expected there to be any signal at all being transmitted after this long. This is a major feat of engineering.


Technology is interesting. It has taken 30 years to move a record [nasa.gov] this far into space. Compare that to an MP3, which can be streamed that same distance in only half a day!

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Informative)

p0tat03 (985078) | about 8 years ago | (#15922504)

"Compare that to an MP3, which can be streamed that same distance in only half a day!"

... A record player hooked to a radio transmitter could claim the same thing (given enough broadcast power)

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Funny)

BillEGoat (50068) | about 8 years ago | (#15922580)

Compare that to an MP3, which can be streamed that same distance in only half a day!

Yeah, but the RIAA'd be all up on your arse.

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Funny)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 8 years ago | (#15923086)

Ha ha only serious. The reason you can't buy the golden record as a multimedia CD-ROM (or anything else) is because the music and images on it are under copyright, and the selections were only released to NASA for use by alien audiences only. :p

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Funny)

jafiwam (310805) | about 8 years ago | (#15922475)

I wish that "vger6" guy would stop logging onto the same CS server I am on.

Really throws the game when he gets all choppy and stuff....

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Interesting)

Klintus Fang (988910) | about 8 years ago | (#15922498)

not sure how much data they are getting from it now, but they are tracking it. there is an observed anomaly in its current trajectory that is not well understood. Unfortunately I can't find a good link on it, but the issue is this:

the craft's current rate of acceleration as it heads away from the sun is not consistent with current gravitional laws.

From what I've read, it is considered likely that the issue is just some exotic side effect of the conventional physics inside the space craft itself (like waste heat shedding off the craft's antenna exerting a small force on the craft and altering its trajectory slightly). It's possible though that it is an indication of a hole in our existing understanding of gravity.

Not sure what else the craft might be doing. Probably not much. But that little anomaly is pretty interesting.

Re:Can we still ping it? (4, Funny)

russ1337 (938915) | about 8 years ago | (#15922676)

It is because its heading toward a black hole.....but why has no-one seen it? I'll ask Holly. Holly, why has no one noticed that Voyager is heading into a black hole?

Holly: Well, the thing about a black hole - it's main distinguishing feature - is it's black. And the thing about space, the color of space, your basic space color - is it's black. So how are you supposed to see them?

Re:Can we still ping it? (3, Informative)

canavan (14778) | about 8 years ago | (#15922717)

Not quite. The supposed anomaly of gravity can be measured with the spin stabilized pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, since those practically never have to use their thrusters to adjust their attitude. The voyager spacecraft on the other hand are 3 axis stabilized with hydrazin thrusters, which they have to use every now and then to keep their radio dish pointed at earth. Their useful science comes from the data they gather about magnetic fields, charged particles etc.

Re:Can we still ping it? (1)

Klintus Fang (988910) | about 8 years ago | (#15923053)

I have seen reference to it as the pioneer anomaly and as the voyager anomaly. What you are saying makes sense though. Has the anomaly not been observed at all on Voyager craft because the need to periodically reorient the dish makes it impossible to know if it is happenning at all? Or is it just that it is too difficult to study with the voyager craft?

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Insightful)

WED Fan (911325) | about 8 years ago | (#15922770)

the craft's current rate of acceleration as it heads away from the sun is not consistent with current gravitional laws.

Could you amend that to read, "is not consistent with our current understanding of gravity" or "is not consistent with our apparently flawed gravitational laws"?

Really, I wish they would stop calling these things "law". Every generation sees a bushel of these "laws" being thrown out, adjusted, or ignored.

The Universe doesn't play by our "laws", it just waits until we understand Its LAWS.

Re:Can we still ping it? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15923061)

"Law" has a well-established meaning in science to refer to a mathemtical relationship. It does not mean "uncontestable and immutable fact".

For example, I could say that "g = G * (M1 + M2)" is a law of gravity. It's a hopeless incorrect and thus useless one, of course. Newton's is much better -- though still not perfect. Nonetheless, it's still Newton's Law of Gravity.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Main Entry: law
Pronunciation: 'lo
Function: noun

3 : a rule of construction or procedure

6 a : a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions b : a general relation proved or assumed to hold between mathematical or logical expressions

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Informative)

vnangia (730425) | about 8 years ago | (#15922777)

Are you're confusing it with the Pioneer Anomaly [wikipedia.org] , which occurs on spin-stablized spacecraft? Voyager is three-axis stablized, and not subject to the anomaly.

Re:Can we still ping it? (5, Informative)

Abcd1234 (188840) | about 8 years ago | (#15922821)

Umm, if you read the article, you'll note that it's not that the Voyagers aren't subject to the anomaly, it's that it's too difficult to measure, since you'd have to cancel out the effect of the thruster use.

Re:Can we still ping it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922526)

ping voyager1

Pinging voyager1 with 32 bytes of data:

Request timed out.
Request timed out.
Request timed out.
Request timed out.

No. At least, I can't.

Re:Can we still ping it? (2, Informative)

mustafap (452510) | about 8 years ago | (#15922561)

Wow, to think that TCP/IP hadn't been invented when it was launched ;o)

lol, wut (1)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | about 8 years ago | (#15922339)

Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space.

What else could it possibly "find"?

Remember "The Truman Show"? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922346)

Yeah.

Re:lol, wut (1)

jbrader (697703) | about 8 years ago | (#15922417)

That's the whole point of course.

Re:lol, wut (1)

VorpalEdge (967279) | about 8 years ago | (#15922513)

The question is whether or not Voyager will still be functioning when it does. :/

Re:lol, wut (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 8 years ago | (#15922789)

it doesn't need to be functioning...that's why the Gold Record [wikipedia.org] with info on it was included as part of the mission ;-)

Voyager 1 (2, Interesting)

thatguywhoiam (524290) | about 8 years ago | (#15922372)

.. has to be one of the best things we (humankind) have ever made. Just in terms of sheer engineering prowess.

If you are like me and love reading about Voyager 1 stuff, here's a great blog post with tons of linked info on the Golden Record, the philosophy behind the probe, who worked on it, that sort of thing.

um... (4, Funny)

XanC (644172) | about 8 years ago | (#15922409)

While your post was nice, I wouldn't describe it as a "great blog post". Or did you miss a link? :-)

Re:Voyager 1 (-1, Troll)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#15922608)

If you are like me and love reading about Voyager 1 stuff, here's a great blog post with tons of linked info on the Golden Record, the philosophy behind the probe, who worked on it, that sort of thing.

It is generally considered to be considerate, to say nothing of cluefulness, to actually provide a link when you have said "here's a link".

Amazing (4, Interesting)

colonslashslash (762464) | about 8 years ago | (#15922376)

As the article points out, it is pretty amazing that this vehicle has travelled so far... 9.3 billion miles is an insane distance alone, but through the hazards of space - 30 years of asteroids, comets, uber death wave radiation and Borg, it's even more astonishing.


Kudos JPL.

Re:Amazing (4, Funny)

tool462 (677306) | about 8 years ago | (#15922937)

The irony being that it was meant to land on Mars, but they got the units wrong then too. *duck*

Re:Amazing (1)

zimus (68982) | about 8 years ago | (#15922989)

... 9.3 billion miles is an insane distance alone ...
I dunno, that's still too close to the in-laws for my taste.

Not bad! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922407)

Not bad for "faster, smarter, cheaper".... Oh wait, that was put up there 30 years ago by the OLD NASA.

V'ger 1 and Amateur DSN (4, Interesting)

John Miles (108215) | about 8 years ago | (#15922424)

This is a good place to mention Luis Cupido's web site [ist.utl.pt] . He's actually managed to pick up the Voyager 1 signal on a 5.6-meter dish, using a lot of DSP-fu and maybe -- you be the judge -- a bit of wishful thinking.

A fascinating, if somewhat slow-loading, page.

Re:V'ger 1 and Amateur DSN (2, Funny)

casings (257363) | about 8 years ago | (#15922528)

A fascinating, if somewhat slow-loading, page

Fascinating that he was able to use Voyager 1 to host his site...

To put the distance in perspective... (5, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 8 years ago | (#15922842)

Voyager 1 is 100 AU away. 2003 UB313 [caltech.edu] is 97 AU and Sedna [caltech.edu] is only 90 AU away. Thus, Voyager 1 is further out than the furthest positively-identified objects in the solar system and is getting close to a theorized inner Oort cloud. I'm sure that I read that it has passed the heliopause - a shockwave that marks the end of the solar winds and the start of the interstellar wind, which would mean that the outermost planet of the solar system is outside the heliosphere. Of all the planets (and plutons) in the solar system, it alone will never feel a single breath of the solar wind.


If, as seems possible, this amateur radio astronomer can detect signals from Voyager 1, it may also be possible for amateur radio astronomers to detect the presence of very faint signals coming from the furthest objects in the solar system, as the iron within them cuts through the charged particle stream of the interstellar winds, which is all you need to generate a radio wave.

Batteries not included...... (5, Funny)

SQLGuru (980662) | about 8 years ago | (#15922440)


The Voyagers owe their longevity to their nuclear power sources, called radioisotope thermoelectric generators, provided by the Department of Energy


30 years without changing the batteries *AND* 30 years without exploding. Can I get one of those?

Layne

Re:Batteries not included...... (3, Funny)

nule.org (591224) | about 8 years ago | (#15922578)

More importantly, can Dell get 4.1 million of these? And kind of quickly?

Re:Batteries not included...... (1)

badasscat (563442) | about 8 years ago | (#15922996)

More importantly, can Dell get 4.1 million of these? And kind of quickly?

I'm not sure you want to have a nuclear energy source sitting on your lap for very long. Not good for the missus, if you know what I mean.

Re:Batteries not included...... (1)

E IS mC(Square) (721736) | about 8 years ago | (#15922613)

One thing I now know about Voyager 1 is that those batteries were not sourced from Sony!

Re:Batteries not included...... (2, Insightful)

Klintus Fang (988910) | about 8 years ago | (#15922824)

30 years without changing the batteries *AND* 30 years without exploding. Can I get one of those?
i know little about the specs of those generators, but somehow I suspect that you wouldn't find the current they are able to provide satisfactory... :-b

Re:Batteries not included...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15923038)

30 years without changing the batteries *AND* 30 years without exploding. Can I get one of those?
Considering the problems associated with handing plutonium (that's in those things) to the masses, I guess the answer will be 'no'.

Well, yes. (5, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | about 8 years ago | (#15922452)

Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space."

The alternative is for the Sun to pull it back.

To sail on a dream through eternal nighttime of space To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm To work in the service of life and the living In search of the answers to questions unknown To be part of the movement and part of the growing Part of beginning to understand

Aye, Voyager, the places you've been to The things that you've shown us The stories you tell Aye, Voyager, I sing to your spirit The men who have served you So long and so well

a tip of the prop to the late John Denver

Interstellar 3.0 (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922494)

The point is, the two Voyagers are the last of the first generation of robotic interstellar spacecraft. Interstellar 2.0 will use ion drive, nuclear electric, solar sails, magnetic sails, and other exotic propulsion technologies. Interstellar 3.0 will get useful paylods to other planetary systems, within the lifetime of some slashdot readers. Cost? Less than the Shuttle/Space Station welfare system. Payoff? Priceless! Starflight without Warp Drive [magicdragon.com] Hydrogen Ice Spacecraft for Robotic Interstellar Flight [magicdragon.com]

Re:Interstellar 3.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15923085)

Interstellar 2.0 will use ion drive, nuclear electric, solar sails, magnetic sails, and other exotic propulsion technologies.

I bet Voyager will be pissed when one of these newfangled probes sails past it, but just to make sure we should program it to broadcast "HA! HA!" at CPA.

Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (3, Insightful)

Lazbien (788979) | about 8 years ago | (#15922499)

The article states that Voyager 1 is using radioisotope thermoelectric generators to power the flight... not knowing what these were, I went to Wikipedia, which told me that they were used to generate a few hundred watts or less, and seem to get hot. My question from this is the application in to on-Earth areas. For instance, why aren't radioisotope thermoelectric generators used in Data Centers? Or Factories? Or Office Towers? Or on farms? Can't we take a few hundred of these, bury them in a sub-basement, and start generating our own power? I want my space age power, damnit. Any rocket scientists out there know the cost of one of these suckers?

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (1)

Feyr (449684) | about 8 years ago | (#15922574)

reasons..

1) cost
2) insulation (from radiation/heat)
and chiefly 3) NIMBY crowd and ecolo-weenies

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (4, Funny)

russ1337 (938915) | about 8 years ago | (#15922576)

generate a few hundred watts or less, and seem to get hot
they use them in Macbooks and Dell computers - and a whole bunch of them just go recalled.

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 8 years ago | (#15922577)

From the very same Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoel ectric_generator#Efficiency [wikipedia.org]

"Thermocouples, though very reliable and long-lasting, are very inefficient; efficiencies above 10% have never been achieved and most RTGs have efficiencies between 3-7%."

So to answer your question, they're made to make a little power for the spacecraft to survive millions of miles from potential energy sources, but would be horribly ineffiencient to be used to generate power on Earth (when we have more efficient ways to do it).

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (2, Informative)

sickofthisshit (881043) | about 8 years ago | (#15922581)

These RTG generators are compact, robust, and long-lived. However, they are not cheap, do not deliver huge quantities of power, decay slowly over time, do not respond to peak load requirements, and are not really efficient. (They use raw heat from radioactive decay, and thermoelectric conversion.)

On Earth, we can pile up a large amount of radioactive material to cause a controlled chain reaction. We can then convert it on an industrial scale to AC electric power for distribution over many miles. You may have seen something called an "electric outlet", where you can pay pennies for a kilowatt hour? And lead-acid batteries to tide you over if the electric grid goes out?

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922591)

Unfortunately, it's hard enough for NASA to use RTGs without the enviro-kooks storming their gates with pitchforks and torches. At this point, privately-owned RTG power sources don't sound likely, due to the potential for accidental or intentional misuse.

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (4, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 8 years ago | (#15922594)

Umm... Read more fellow. They use Plutonium... They are radioactive and could be used to make at least a dirty bomb if not an outright fission device.
They uses some in the old Soviet Union at some remote sites but they used Strontium 90 which while it will still kill you can not be used to make fission devices.

Not something I would want in my basment but dang handy in space and maybe some remote applications like ocean monitoring or even antarctica.

238Pu != 239Pu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15923003)

The name of a chemical element only conveys its chemical properties. If you want to discuss nuclear properties you have to specify the isotope you're talking about. 238Pu is used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators. 239Pu is used in nuclear weapons. They are not the same and cannot be converted from one kind to the other easily.

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (1)

Vellmont (569020) | about 8 years ago | (#15923019)


They are radioactive and could be used to make at least a dirty bomb if not an outright fission device.

It would probbably make a very good dirty bomb, but Pu-238 is a lousy choice for a fission bomb. The reason is that it has a high rate of spontaneous fission (and emits neutrons in the process). This would cause the plutonium to undergow premature detonation before the mass of Pu was compressed. The result would be a much smaller explosion.

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (1)

man_ls (248470) | about 8 years ago | (#15922684)

The heat source is decaying radioactive waste, typically not something you want around people. They put them on spacecrafts because there's little danger of someone else getting hit by the radiation as the device operates. Putting them on the Earth would require extensive shielding, and turn every data center into a potential terrorist dirty bomb target.

Re:Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (1, Insightful)

MoFoQ (584566) | about 8 years ago | (#15922795)

well...the "Fear" of anything nuclear (it's funny how all those environmentalists bitch and moan about a few kilograms of uranium when many tons of it was released into the atmosphere due to coal power plants (ref: http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/ colmain.html [ornl.gov] )

By the year 2040, the prediction/projected cumulative amounts released by coal burning plants is
U.S. release (from combustion of 111,716 million tons):
Uranium: 145,230 tons (containing 1031 tons of uranium-235)
Thorium: 357,491 tons

Worldwide release (from combustion of 637,409 million tons):
Uranium: 828,632 tons (containing 5883 tons of uranium-235)
Thorium: 2,039,709 tons

Anyways, back to the subject at hand, why can't we make the radioisotopes now in nuclear waste facilities (especially in the Yucca Mountain range in Nevada) produce energy using a RTG? It may not be the most efficient method but the stuff is just "sitting" there and can't be used in a traditional power generation method.

Just a thought. It might at least be able to power the lighting systems at those facilities.

Plans for a new "Voyager" (4, Interesting)

cecom (698048) | about 8 years ago | (#15922575)

I wonder whether there are plans for launching a new, more powerful, more sophisticated aircraft with the same purpose. After 30 years of progress we should be able to do much better, shouldn't we ? (To be honest I suspect that modern technology is less reliable than 30 years ago - the complexity is killer - but still we have to try)

Couldn't there be a very low power engine of some kind, just enough to provide a minimal thrust for, lets say, a decade. You don't need a lot of thrust in vacuum. Even small but constant acceleration should be sufficient to eventually achieve very high speed and perhaps even outrun the older spacecraft.

Re:Plans for a new "Voyager" (1)

aiken_d (127097) | about 8 years ago | (#15922945)

Just come up with a drug, abortion, porn, or terrorism angle, and the funding is yours. For the next few months, anyway.

-b

Speed over time (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | about 8 years ago | (#15922946)

Couldn't there be a very low power engine of some kind, just enough to provide a minimal thrust for, lets say, a decade. You don't need a lot of thrust in vacuum. Even small but constant acceleration should be sufficient to eventually achieve very high speed and perhaps even outrun the older spacecraft.

If getting from A to B as fast as possible is your goal, you want to get as much of your acceleration done as fast as possible. For example, at the race track, it's better to be going 1MPH faster exiting a turn onto a straight section, than to end up 1MPH faster at the END of the straightaway.

It'd be much beter to do a big burst, then trickle- than to trickle all the way.

Re:Plans for a new "Voyager" (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | about 8 years ago | (#15922961)

Technology has improved a great deal in the last thirty years. Unfortunately, some of the constraints on deep space exploration are physical, rather than engineering problems.

The limit with any engine, high or low thrust, is fuel. Essentially, any reaction drive that carries fuel with it will eventually run out (whether it's making ten Gs of acceleration over a few seconds, or .0001 G over a matter of years). You get more milage per mass of fuel as you increase the exhaust velocity (the speed of the exhaust relative to the craft), but then you're up against power requirements - it takes more and more energy to accelerate the reaction mass to higher and higher speeds. That power has to come from somewhere, and any generator system will increase the overall mass of the spacecraft, decreasing the acceleration.

Combining an ion drive with, say, solar panels will work wonders in the inner solar system, since you're getting your power for free, and firing off your fuel in small quantities at extremely high speed. In the outer system though, solar power isn't an option and radiothermic generators (RTGs) like those used on voyager are heavy, at least relative to their power output. Most other power technology we have available today would add fuel and/or maintainance constraints. RTGs and solar panals are used for precisely those reasons - because they have neither signifigant fuel limitations nor many moving parts to break down.

Plus, the engines themselves will undoubtably have a limited working lifetime - extending that lifetime to operate for years or decades will involved increasing the mass of the engine, which kinda puts you back at square one.

Something like a light sail would work better (over long distances the lower thrust is offset by the lack of fuel requirements), but that's still more in the realm of science fiction. Nuclear drive technology could also fill the gap, but the political constraints involved in putting anything fission based in orbit are huge, and we won't have fusion for decades at least (longer, if you factor in the need for miniaturization).

Re:Plans for a new "Voyager" (2, Informative)

Pfhreak (662302) | about 8 years ago | (#15923047)

Couldn't there be a very low power engine of some kind, just enough to provide a minimal thrust for, lets say, a decade. You don't need a lot of thrust in vacuum. Even small but constant acceleration should be sufficient to eventually achieve very high speed and perhaps even outrun the older spacecraft.

That's actually the exact design philosophy behind ion thrusters [wikipedia.org] .

What's it doing exactly? (3, Interesting)

man_ls (248470) | about 8 years ago | (#15922631)

Is Voyager 1 providing any useful information any more, besides the becon signal and trajectory information? Wasn't there a Voyager 2?

I'm curious what's failed on the probe so far. After 30 years, something has to have died.

Re:What's it doing exactly? (3, Informative)

Oliver Defacszio (550941) | about 8 years ago | (#15922707)

Damned near everything is dead, and it's sending back only the most basic scientific information to conserve energy levels that are already well beyond their expected date of exhaustion. I read an article not long ago (that I can't be bothered to find again) stating that only a small percentage of its original devices of science have worked at all since the 80s.

Long story short -- at this point, she's basically running flat out to see how far she can go while running on fumes. The same article stated that the new projection of its fuel exhaustion is roughly 2020.

Re:What's it doing exactly? (1)

man_ls (248470) | about 8 years ago | (#15922730)

Well, I guess that's something, seeing how far we can do and what happens when we get past our solar system.

They should really send some more, newer, faster probes out to hopefully cover that distance in less time with more available power.

Re:What's it doing exactly? (4, Informative)

Zarhan (415465) | about 8 years ago | (#15922909)

Damned near everything is dead, and it's sending back only the most basic scientific information to conserve energy levels that are already well beyond their expected date of exhaustion.

    Umm, no.

I read an article not long ago (that I can't be bothered to find again) stating that only a small percentage of its original devices of science have worked at all since the 80s.

    The Scan platform was turned off in the early 21st century. That's when cameras were turned off to save power.

    See http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/science/thirty.html [nasa.gov] and scroll to the end of the page.

VOYAGER 1

1998 DOY 316 - Reduction in Scan Platform power - preserve UVS and Elevation Actuator temperature (+11.0 W)

        * WA Vidicon Heater OFF (+5.5 W)
        * NA Vidicon Heater OFF (+5.5 W)

2002 - Terminate UVS operations - turn-off all Scan Platform loads (43.9 W). Date expected to change.

        * WA Electronics Replacement Heater OFF (+10.5 W)
        * IRIS Replacement Heater OFF (+7.8 W)
        * NA Electonics Replacement Heater OFF (+10.5 W)
        * Azimuth Actuator Supplemental Heater OFF (+3.5 W)
        * UVS Power OFF (+2.4 W)
        * UVS Replacement Heater OFF (+2.4 W)
        * Azimuth Coil Heater OFF (+4.4 W)
        * Scan platform slewing power OFF (+2.4 W)

    So, until 2002, V1 was used for searching UV sources among the stars, among other things. However, that doesn't tell much, since most of the work is done with particle, plasma and wave detectors and those will be working well into the 2020's.

What's the problem? (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | about 8 years ago | (#15922664)

Scientists still hope it will find the edge of the solar system and get into interstellar space.
The IAU just have to have a meeting and define interstellar space to start at 100 AU and the problem is solved.

How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (4, Interesting)

aJester (954798) | about 8 years ago | (#15922733)

This is probably a dumb question. But here goes.

How is it that Voyager (and other probes) is able to avoid crashing into obstacles (eg: asteroids, commets, planets etc)?

Do they have some kind of navigation system that can sense an object coming towards it and alter its course?

One would think that in 30 years and so many billion miles, it must be *VERY* lucky to have avoided any obstacles in its path?

Can anyone explain?

Re:How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (4, Funny)

Svenne (117693) | about 8 years ago | (#15922833)

Space is big. Really big.

Re:How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (4, Informative)

Bob of Dole (453013) | about 8 years ago | (#15922845)

Space is VERY empty.
It's only slightly less non-empty when you're real close to a star or other big mass of stuff. Right now Voyager is the farthest from a star that any man-made object has ever reached, so the chances of it hitting into stuff are nearly zero.
But to answer your original question though, no, it doesn't have any kind of stuff-avoidance ability. Even if they had designed it to have that ability, by now it wouldn't have any power left to do that.

Re:How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (3, Funny)

jguthrie (57467) | about 8 years ago | (#15922917)

Douglas Adams put it fairly well:

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 drug store, but that's just peanuts to space.


The reason it hasn't run into anything is because space is basically empty. There's very little out there to hit and what is there is a long way from anything else. So, not it's not *VERY* lucky to have not hit anything. If it had hit something, it would have been very *UN*lucky.

Re:How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (1)

jmorris42 (1458) | about 8 years ago | (#15922955)

> One would think that in 30 years and so many billion miles, it must be *VERY* lucky to have avoided
> any obstacles in its path?

> Can anyone explain?

Ok. Since you apparently skipped science class I'll keep it simple.

Well first off, space is big. Really really big. Mindbogglingly big. And second it is almost entirely empty. So the odds of it hitting anything is pretty much zilch, especially out where it is now.

Re:How does Voyager avoid crashing into Obstacles (1)

rpj1288 (698823) | about 8 years ago | (#15923042)

I love how the all those responses quoted Douglas Adams.

Which Edge? (4, Interesting)

HoneyBeeSpace (724189) | about 8 years ago | (#15922745)

According to this article [slashdot.org] Voyager 1 already passed the heliopause at 85 AU. So which edge are we looking for now?

Re:Which Edge? (3, Funny)

dedazo (737510) | about 8 years ago | (#15923024)

The edge of reason. Voyager will stare into the void, go psycho and start blogging about his cats.

Re:Which Edge? (2, Informative)

Zarhan (415465) | about 8 years ago | (#15923054)

Not heliopause. It passed the Termination Shock, where Solar wind changes from supersonic to subsonic speeds. It's still in solar wind. Heliopause will be coming up later.

Re:Which Edge? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15923082)

According to this article Voyager 1 already passed the heliopause at 85 AU. So which edge are we looking for now?

The menopause? ;)

Funding cut? (1)

Dadoo (899435) | about 8 years ago | (#15922822)

I heard NASA wasn't planning on renewing the Voyager funding when it was supposed to expire, last October? Did they change their minds?

Wow! Is this thing still working? Fantastic! (2, Insightful)

Uninstaller (995881) | about 8 years ago | (#15922871)

NASA sure used to build rugged, solid stuff!

Re:Wow! Is this thing still working? Fantastic! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922965)

Mars rovers?

Will it ever find life? (4, Funny)

Jugalator (259273) | about 8 years ago | (#15922890)

I wonder if it'll ever find life, and what the scenario in that case would look like.

Maybe floating down from the skies with a note inside...
"Looks like you lost something, but jeez, it was hard to track you down with more planets than its schematic shows!"

Great (4, Funny)

ZakuSage (874456) | about 8 years ago | (#15922891)

Only one more AU until it passes 100 AU from Earth.

Re:Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15922969)

Very good! You passed first grade! *gives this post a gold star sticker*

What's the point? In another 30 years... (3, Funny)

manifoldronin (827401) | about 8 years ago | (#15922918)

All the data sent back will be lost by NASA anyways.

CMOS Worked Out After All (4, Informative)

druske (550305) | about 8 years ago | (#15922940)

Too bad the CDP1802's [wikipedia.org] architect, Joe Weisbecker [cosmacelf.com] , didn't live to see his microprocessor become the first in interstellar space. Coincidentally, this month also marks the 30th anniversary of his Popular Electronics article on the COSMAC ELF [wikipedia.org] ; Nuts and Volts magazine [nutsvolts.com] is covering it.

AU/km/mi (1)

H0NGK0NGPH00EY (210370) | about 8 years ago | (#15923074)

Yesterday, Voyager 1 passed 100 astronomical units from the sun as it continues operating after nearly 30 years in space. That is about 15 billion kilometers or 9.3 billion miles as it travels about 1 million miles per day.
I'm not quite sure I've got a grasp on how far that is. Could you give it to me in # of songs, or Libraries of Congress or some other similar standard?
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