Voyager probes’ 30 years in space

A space probe beyond the edge of the solar system celebrated 30 years since its launch yesterday. Voyager 2 is still sending data back to Earth from a distance of 7.8 billion miles – more than three times further than distant Pluto – powered by as little energy as a light bulb.

Artist's impression of a Voyager passing SaturnIts sister craft, Voyager 1, was launched a couple of weeks later, on September 5, 1977, but is even further away at a distance of 9.7 billion miles, making it the most distant man-made object in space.

The two unmanned spacecraft sent back close-up views of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons, plus the first detailed images of Uranus and Neptune in their first 12 years of flight. They laid the groundwork for later missions to the planets, and were first to spot mysteries such as the hexagon on Saturn.

For the past 19 years, they have been probing conditions at the “final frontier” where the sun’s influence dies and interstellar space begins. In December 2004, Voyager 1 began crossing this region, called the heliosheath, approximately
8.7 billion miles from the sun, is where the solar wind slows as it crashes into the thin gas that fills the space between stars. Voyager 2 is expected to reach this boundary later this year.

Each spacecraft carries five fully functioning science instruments that study the solar wind, energetic particles, magnetic fields and radio waves as they cruise through this unexplored region of deep space.

The spacecraft are too far from the sun to use solar power. Instead, they run on less than 300 watts, enough to light up a bright light bulb, and provided by radioisotope thermoelectric generators.

Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, said: “It’s a testament to Voyager’s designers, builders and operators that both spacecraft continue to deliver important findings more than 25 years after their primary mission to Jupiter and Saturn concluded.”

Stern’s own mission, New Horizons, zipped past Jupiter earlier this year on its way to study the former planet Pluto.

Picture: A Nasa artist’s impression of a Voyager passing Saturn.

• Skymania welcomes your comments on our stories! For more space reading, check out the Skymania stores in the USA and in the UK. They are powered by Amazon so you can buy with confidence.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

Get free Skymania news updates by email

Sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!


Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *