Machines Beat Humans in Race to Escape Our Doomed Solar System

Machines Beat Humans in Race to Escape Our Doomed Solar SystemS

Long after the floods or the fires have reduced our cities to rubble, long after the plague or the asteroid strike or the famine has killed off the human species, long after even our sun has boiled the seas dry and, in its own death throes, engulfed and annihilated every dust mote of this world we like to think of as our safe and stable home, a three-quarter-ton assemblage of metal will be sailing through empty interstellar space—on its way to nowhere, effectively from nowhere. A year ago, Voyager 1 crossed out of our solar system. It took us till now, painstakingly deciphering its available signals, to figure out that it had done so. Voyager 1 will continue communicating with us until perhaps 2025, when it is expected to run out of power and fly on in silence, all on its own, while you and everyone you know die and are forgotten. It will be carrying an analog audio disc containing, among other recordings, "Dark Was the Night" by Blind Willie Johnson.

[Image by Jim Cooke]

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It's Official: Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar System

It's Official: Voyager 1 Has Left the Solar SystemS

After months of back and forth, scientists now agree that NASA's Voyager 1 has become the first manmade object to leave the solar system. And it only took 36 years to make the 12 billion mile-long journey.

It's obviously a major milestone for space exploration which is probably why scientists have been arguing for months over whether or not Voyager 1 had crossed the threshold into interstellar space. In the end, it all came down to the plasma surrounding the spacecraft. After a burst of solar wind and magnetic fields caused the plasma around the spacecraft to oscillate in April, researchers realized plasma was also 40 times denser at that point than it was in the heliosphere. This was a sign that the Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space, and the team ultimately determined that the spacecraft crossed the line in August 12 of last year. (Listen to the sound of interstellar space below.)

"Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science, and adding a new chapter in human scientific dreams and endeavors," said NASA’s associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld. "Perhaps some future deep space explorers will catch up with Voyager, our first interstellar envoy, and reflect on how this intrepid spacecraft helped enable their journey."

In the meantime, all eyes are on Voyager 2, which is nipping at its sibling's heels, speeding fast into interstellar space. (That is, if 2 billion miles can be considered nipping at its heels.) Either way, Voyager is now on its way to another star. At it's current speed of 100,000 miles per hour, it'll only take her 40,000 years.

What interstellar space sounds like:

How scientists decided Voyager had entered interstellar space:

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