back to article Voyager 1 'close' to breaking through to DEEP SPACE - boffins

Boffins still aren’t sure just when the deep-space Voyager probe will cross the line into interstellar space, but new data from the spacecraft makes them believe it’s close. Voyager 1 Explores the 'Magnetic Highway' Voyager 1, which is now more than 18 billion kilometres from the sun, has now experienced two out of the three …

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  1. Anonymous Noel Coward
    Trollface

    Wow...

    18.5 billion miles from Earth and we can still get a picture of it from up close!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      Re: Wow...

      That'll be from the support helicopter

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    17 hours

    to receive data from it, and it's still a quicker rate than rural broadband

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: 17 hours

      Good thing too.

      It's not too bad when you only get asked; "Are we there yet?" every 17 hours.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 17 hours

        Nah, it will be worse. You will still get asked that every 10 seconds (or how ever often NASA is asking Voyager 1).

        Just with a 17 hour delay.

        So if you do arrive their and you tell them "we are here!!!!", you will continue to get asked "Are we there yet?" for another 34 hours (17 hours for the question to get to you and another 17 hours for your reply to get back to them).....

        And the delay just keeps increasin'!!!

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: 17 hours

          Surely just the 17 hours, as the "we are here" will be sent in response to one of the delayed-by-17-hours questions!

          1. Wzrd1

            Re: 17 hours

            "Surely just the 17 hours, as the "we are here" will be sent in response to one of the delayed-by-17-hours questions!"

            Murphy's law says, the response eventually will be, "Nanu nanu, Earthlings!"

            No, not E.T., not even Predator, Mork from Ork...

          2. Bent Outta Shape
            Headmaster

            Re: 17 hours

            Nah, poor Voyager will have to endure a further 34 hours of questions after finally being able to answer "We're here!".

            I.e. 17 hours of questions whilst the answer flitters back to Earth; but of course *during* those hours NASA have still been asking more questions. So assuming NASA stop asking on receipt of "We're here" there is still a further 17 hours of questions in-flight towards Voyager.

  3. ARP2

    Are we close to losing radio contact

    How much longer will we be able to receive radio signals from Voyager given its distance. Also, have we prepared for when it returns with a tall bald woman?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

      By the original estimates, about 10 years ago!

      They don't build em like they used to y'now.

      1. deshepherd

        Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

        Once looked up about the error correcting methods they use to encode the signals and think they've changed the method once or twice as it got further away to take account of greate error rate. Anyway, when I did my maths degree *30* years ago I did a final year option on error-correcting codes and the lecturer even then said it was amazing that NASA were able to get signals from what amounted to a 60W light bulb somwhere near the outer planets ... even more amazing they are still in contact when it must be 4-5x further away!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

          They are, of course, getting some external help...

        2. Wzrd1

          Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

          "...even then said it was amazing that NASA were able to get signals from what amounted to a 60W light bulb somwhere near the outer planets..."

          Never underestimate the power of plutonium decay. :)

    2. Richard Wharram

      Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

      Bloody Carbon Units!

    3. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

      V'ger is going to be mighty confused when it returns and finds the William Shatner has a better head of hair than he had when Voyager left Earth!

      "Kirk-unit, are you wearing a rug?"

    4. annodomini2

      Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

      Probably further now, they've increased receiver power for radio telescopes by linking up the receivers, so receiving won't be an issue.

      The problem will be the power supply or system failure, i.e. when the power gets so low that the transceiver stops working (or fails).

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: Are we close to losing radio contact

        "The problem will be the power supply or system failure, i.e. when the power gets so low that the transceiver stops working (or fails)."

        More likely a system failure or power supply regulator problem. The probe is powered by three RTG's.

        To steal documentation, "The power output of the RTGs does decline over time (halving every 87.7 yrs), but the RTGs of Voyager 1 will continue to support some of its operations until around 2025."

        Now, *that* is reliable circuitry! The RTG isn't amazing as is the ability of those ancient circuits of yesteryear to survive such an incredibly harsh environment and continue functioning.

  4. Anomalous Cowshed

    This tiny vessel

    This tiny vessel, this minute speck of metal coasting through the gaping vastness of space, is a symbol of how we human beings, despite our fragile bodies, and our short and puny lives on this planet, have managed to harness our imagination and ingenuity to overcome once unthinkable odds, and lay claim to immortality...

    1. Stuart 22
      Unhappy

      Re: This tiny vessel

      No problem in the 1960s and 1970s. Makes this millennium a tad introspective in comparison.

      1. AceRimmer

        Re: This tiny vessel

        You have to remember that the planets were literally aligned in voyagers favour back then.

        Still another 150 years before such conditions will occur again

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This tiny vessel

        "Makes this millennium a tad introspective in comparison."

        Yup. If they were starting out now, the marketing drones would insist priorities were Twitter capabilities and a Facebook account.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Introspection

        They don't call it the postmodern for nothing...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This tiny vessel

      Having just worked my way through a batch of Star Trek, it's good to get reality in focus again. We're not exactly getting anywhere yet with clever tricks to beat the physics involved, are we?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Boffin

        Re: This tiny vessel

        "We're not exactly getting anywhere yet with clever tricks to beat the physics involved, are we?"

        Well one of NASA's NIAC proposals was for solar sail version of Voyager. would be about 3x faster.

      2. Wzrd1

        Re: This tiny vessel

        "We're not exactly getting anywhere yet with clever tricks to beat the physics involved, are we?"

        Make it a question of, do it or you are extinct, we'd solve the problem in a New York minute, which is well documented to be sub-quantum time.

        The time unit is why I'll stick with the threat of being shot in Philadelphia over either having a stroke or throttling half of NYC...

        Damn! But, I really should have retired to New Zealand...

    3. Ryan 7
      Thumb Up

      Re: This tiny vessel

      You, sir, get an upvote.

    4. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: This tiny vessel

      From what I read, you are right ! There is no reason to suppose both the Voyagers will not still be travelling the galaxy in a million years from now. Possibly the only remaining artifacts of a long gone race.

    5. Gav
      Headmaster

      Re: This tiny vessel

      The vastness of space cannot "gape". Only things that have a something around it can gape.

      </pedantry>

      1. Esskay
        Joke

        Re: This tiny vessel

        "Only things that have a something around it can gape"

        You say that now, but when voyager bumps into the backdrop you'll be sorry...

      2. Fibbles

        Re: This tiny vessel

        "The vastness of space cannot "gape". Only things that have a something around it can gape.

        </pedantry>"

        <pedantry>

        There's no point in using a closing tag if you never used an opening one.

        </pedantry>

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

          Re: This tiny vessel

          // <pedantry>

          On these forums, it's on by default.

          Attempting to turn it off on the way out is pointless.

    6. Roger Greenwood
      Pint

      Re: This tiny vessel

      You put it well.

      Long after we have been returned to dust, this tiny craft will still be coasting along.

      Makes you think.

      Another pint and I might have an answer . . . .

    7. RegGuy1
      Megaphone

      Re: This tiny vessel

      OK, come on. Own up you downvoter you.

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    I remember following its launch

    and the trip past the planets. Wonderful spacecraft, still going strong after all these years.

    I will raise a glass to all those who made this feat possible.

    1. Anony-mouse
      Thumb Up

      Re: I remember following its launch

      NASA sure could build em good back in the 70's. Hard to believe that both Voyager spacecraft are still able to send data back. I wonder how long the plutonium powerpacks are good for on them?

      1. Phil E Succour
        Go

        Re: I remember following its launch

        >> I wonder how long the plutonium powerpacks are good for on them?

        Don't know, but I could do with one for my laptop...

      2. annodomini2

        Re: I remember following its launch

        They keep tweaking it, but somewhere between 2020 and 2025.

      3. Wzrd1

        Re: I remember following its launch

        " I wonder how long the plutonium powerpacks are good for on them?"

        They're rated to 2025. Even money, there'll be a few more years out of them due to over-engineering.

        I can kludge together some really robust designs for circuits, but... Damn! That is REALLY good designs, considering the resources available back then.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I remember following its launch

          " I wonder how long the plutonium powerpacks are good for on them?"

          Plutonium 238, half-life of 88 years.

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Just think

    if they'd got an extended warranty who knows what we could have discovered!

    1. Esskay

      Re: Just think

      But would the return postage costs be worth it?

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Just think

      Well, considering the technology of the time, then considering the later Spirit and Opportunity rovers, I'd say that the extended warranty was long closed, but the devices worked far beyond even that expectation.

  7. Mike Wilson
    Thumb Up

    Awesome reliability

    I realise someone out there is probably still watching a telly from the 70s, but Voyager has been in a hostile environment for decades and is still working. Amazing.

    1. xyz

      Re: Awesome reliability

      >>but Voyager has been in a hostile environment for decades and is still working.

      You make it sound like it's employed by HP

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Awesome reliability

      Whilst I admire the feat of engineering that is Voyager, I've never seen it have to avoid a controller hurled at it before due to Street Fighter rage.... though, to be fair to it... it is almost older than the controller concept.

      1. Wzrd1

        Re: Awesome reliability

        "Whilst I admire the feat of engineering that is Voyager, I've never seen it have to avoid a controller hurled at it before due to Street Fighter rage.... though, to be fair to it... it is almost older than the controller concept."

        Erm, even the mythical Incredible Hulk couldn't manage an arm sufficient to reach either Voyager.

        Though, I, the Incredible Bulk may well be able to, due to gravitational boosting... ;)

    3. Wzrd1

      Re: Awesome reliability

      A decade ago, I retired my father's kitchen television from a year before the probe was launched.

      Our very first color television.

      It was a GE television, hybrid transistor and kludged solid state circuitry that had a mysterious arc that I never figured out until I scrapped the damned thing and found the carbon trail that would otherwise have never been found.

      It finally failed and was replaced.

      Interestingly enough, our 1964 B&W console stereo-television still operates. With vacuum tubes in the television and germanium transistors in the stereo. The CRT is gassy in the extreme, the high voltage "flyback" transformer is dodgy at best, due to melting of the insulation, but the thing still works.

      Lost out on a bid for a first run RCA television, pure vacuum tube unit. Didn't share the information on how to adjust the ion trap with the bastard that won it by crook. May the neck arc through on him... :/

      Old tech isn't bad tech, only dated. Though, dated technology ideas aren't necessarily obsolete. :D

  8. Buzzword

    Mandatory XKCD comic

    Voyager has left the solar system again?!

    http://xkcd.com/1189/

    1. Anonymous Coward 101
      Stop

      Re: Mandatory XKCD comic

      I was wondering that. We seem to get these stories every few months, and will get them for the next couple of decades.

      Setting arbitrary limits to a solar system, and trying to determine whether a small man made object has breached those limits, is a fool's errand.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Mandatory XKCD comic

        Not quite. It isn't just fading away with 1/r^2 or something like that. The solar wind (blowing outwards) means that the solar system is a bubble with a shockwave on the outside. Give or take a few squillion miles, that bubble has a defined edge and that edge is in a physically meaningful way the limit of the Sun's domain.

      2. Wzrd1

        Re: Mandatory XKCD comic

        "Setting arbitrary limits to a solar system, and trying to determine whether a small man made object has breached those limits, is a fool's errand."

        Erm, no. It's not arbitrary limits, it's current knowledge and theory.

        Theory and knowledge that is being stretched daily.

        Rather unlike your perspective.

  9. g e
    Joke

    It's all fun & games until

    It hits the wall, Truman Show style...

    1. ARP2

      Re: It's all fun & games until

      and then a Terry Gilliam style God tells us to knock it off.

      1. I like noodles

        Re: It's all fun & games until

        No no, all fun and games until we get an insurance claim in.

        "Dear earth, my client had just started to move from the lights in his Starbus-9000 when your vintage car came along and t-boned him at about 12 miles per second in a 6 miles per second zone. Please attend the galactic court on 43rd of Julember where we intend to claim damages that you should have been saving for since you launched the thing"

      2. deshepherd

        Re: It's all fun & games until

        Or alternative Terry Gilliam style would be for it to hit an invisible barrier a la Time Bandits ("oh, that's what an invisble barriier looks like - I always wondered")

      3. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: It's all fun & games until

        "and then a Terry Gilliam style God tells us to knock it off."

        Or just a big hand holding it and a voice going 'I suppose you kids want this back?'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Joke

      Re: It's all fun & games until

      Or pops out the other side, 80's computer game style

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: It's all fun & games until

      " It hits the wall, Truman Show style... "

      Might that not be the problem? It's like a fly trying to go through a window pane:

      "It's about to leave the solar system." <bump>

      "No, now it's about to leave the solar system." <bump>

      "Ok, this is definitely it." <bump>

      "Finally closing in on breaching the heliosphere." <bump>

      "This time, For Sure!" <bump>

      "Auggh! We'll keep looking and tell you when." <bump> <bump> <bump>

  10. rpb
    Go

    Iconic

    maybe you should add a Voyager 1 icon to this list, as a tribute to the feisty little communicator...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Go

      Re: Iconic

      Seconded

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Iconic

        Indeed, although then in fairness we'd need one for Opportunity and Spirit as well.

  11. WIDTAP

    Good until 2050

    Voyager 1 has only five functioning instruments left from its original ten. As the power in its plutonium-238 batteries runs down towards 2050, the instruments will be turned off one by one.

    So only about 37 more years to get out into deep space before they have to turn it off.

    It is transmitting at about 14k baud, about the speed we used to get when we were just transitioning off of modem that you pushed the handset of your wireline phone into.

    Wireline phones - well, we have to go way back into history to explain what those were.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Good until 2050

      > Wireline phones

      I know what these are. The Battlestar "Galactica" (BSG-75) was running on those.

    2. Down not across Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Good until 2050

      "It is transmitting at about 14k baud, about the speed we used to get when we were just transitioning off of modem that you pushed the handset of your wireline phone into."

      I doubt they would be modulating at 14Kbaud, nor are they transmitting at 14kbps either.

      AFAIK, normal telemetry at 160bps and 1.4kpbs for transmitting stored data.

  12. graeme leggett

    Out of the shallows and into the deep water

    The spacecraft equivalent of "crossing the bar"

    Or like a turtle hatchling pushing its way off the beach into the surf?

  13. ElectricFox
    Alien

    We know it's finally out when we hear it shout:

    SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!

    1. Def Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: We know it's finally out when we hear it shout:

      Except you wont, because in space no one can hear you. ;)

  14. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Joke

    Tantric?

    Didn't they announce something almost identical a few weeks back?

    They've been so close now for so long it's starting to sound like tantric sex.

  15. Kanwal
    WTF?

    I always wondered....

    Since my school days, I have been following up on news of both the Voyagers, and I loved looking at the amazing pictures of planets, the spacecrafts sent. However, I could never understand one thing, how the heck did it manage to travel so deep in space, without the possibility of being hit by any asteroid or even a small piece of rock like meteorite? Just one hit on its antenna could have made it dead.

    Did anyone of you also think same?

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: I always wondered....

      Well to misquote a certain space is huge, really huge and empty.

      The dangerous bits were the flybys of the planets, thereafter there wasn't going to be much to hit.

      Bit now you've mentioned it, I wonder if they had to fudge the calculations of that when they put the programme together.

      "Well, sir the chances of the mission failing iside a year due to a mechanical fault are 0.0056%"

      "And what are the chances of it hitting something?"

      "Oh, they're about...mmmbmmmbmmbmmm"

      "What? you sort of tailed off there without giving me an answer"

      "Yes. Yes I did."

    2. rcorrect
      Happy

      Re: I always wondered....

      When it happens, go to the convenience store and purchase yourself a lottery ticket.

    3. DJ 2
      Joke

      Re: I always wondered....

      Back then they hadn't discovered that the whole solar system is full of rocks. They thought they were only in two distinct belts, and the oort cloud they didn't really believe in. If you don't think anything bad will happen it won't. ;)

  16. sisk Silver badge

    Meanwhile, in interstellar space

    "Honey, look over there in the no entry zone. I think there's something coming out."

    "Impossible. The only habitable planet in there is populated by hairless apes. They can't make a spacemobile, let alone find an onramp to the interstar."

    *CRUNCH*

    "MY SPACEMOBILE! I'll sue those damn apes for their entire planet!"

  17. Turtle

    "Close"

    "Boffins still don’t know exactly how far the craft has to travel to reach deep space. It could take days, weeks, months or even years - although researchers do think Voyager is close."

    Wtf does "close" mean in this context? I can't get any meaning out of it at all.

    1. PaulW

      Re: "Close"

      Okay - so are we now going to have to change it?

      "Close only counts in Horseshoes, hand grenades and Voyager missions"

  18. AceRimmer1980
    Alien

    Huge vacuum pump in space?

    V'Ger will become one with the creator. Just having a bit of, erm, difficulty.

  19. John Tserkezis

    Should be real soon now.

    18 Billion kilometres and still no sign of god. Perhaps if I hold my breath a little longer...

  20. teebie

    Wow, this is amazing news

    I don't know why we haven't already heard it 4 or 5 times in different forms.

    ...hang on a second...

  21. Jim McCafferty
    Joke

    Set Phasers to 8mm

    A lot of people dismiss Star Trek - The Motion Picture as an average Sci-Fi Flick - turns out it was a documentary.

  22. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "abrupt" ?

    I wonder how abrupt "abrupt" will be?

  23. starkthewolf

    The Voyagers are Coasters

    Much as I love the visual image of a spacecraft putting the "pedal to the metal" those tiny metal spacecraft have been coasting since BEFORE they past the orbit of the moon. They did use the gravity wells around Jupiter and Saturn to speed up and turn the spacecraft towards their next planet, Uranus. So you could say they are truly Newtonian objects. And thanks to him, they were plotted on the best and most advantageous coasting path possible.

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