I have been using the new GOOGLE SKY (just like the ordinary sky, except your BRAIN-WAVES are automatically recorded for Google’s marketing department) to try and spot the Starship Voyager 2!
Here is the view of SPACE above my flat!
(Strictly speaking, it is the view at six o’clock in the evening.)
If you look up there you can see the bright blue star of VEGA in the constellation of LYRA. Well somewhere between there and the constellation of HERCULES, that is where you will find Voyager 2, hurtling ahead of us into the galactic night.
This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2 on the 20th August 1977, shortly followed by the slightly backwards launch of Voyager 1 (on the 5th September). In spit of this numerical inexactitude, these two plucky little robots have been the most marvellous success, with their grand tour of the outer plants of the Solar System.
After all this time, AMAZINGLY, they are still working, and have been given a NEW MISSION: to seek out the limits of the Solar System.
Voyager 1, despite her late start, has overtaken her sister ship and is now, at about fifteen BILLION kilometres away (about 0.16% of a LIGHT YEAR), is the most distant human-made object EVER.
As you probably know, the galaxy is filled with very thin DUST of hydrogen and helium and other little bits of debris. Our Solar System sits in a sort of BUBBLE in this dust cloud, created by the pressure of the SOLAR WINDS: charged particles and magnetic fields that come blasting off the sun at millions of miles an hour.
Somewhere out there, between eighty and a hundred times as far from the Sun as the Earth, there is a boundary called the “Termination Shock” where the mixing of the solar winds with the galactic dust slows the winds down to below the speed of sound (even though there ISN’T any sound because you are in SPACE where only Star Destroyers are loud enough to be heard!) Beyond this is a TURBULENT region where the galactic dust mixes with the faltering particles from the Sun, before finally – maybe as far away again – you reach the HELIOPAUSE, the limit of the Sun’s influence, beyond which is truly INTERSTELLAR SPACE.
Voyager 1 has already crossed the Termination Shock and Voyager 2 is coming up on it fast. And soon, even if it may be another thirty years, Voyager will cross the Heliopause and become (assuming those German Physicists don’t get a working faster-than-light machine going in the meantime) the Earth’s first INTERSTELLAR SPACE CRAFT.
Except that that will make us FAIR GAME for the DALEKS!