Out of the neighborhood for goodOne of humanity's highest callings, in my opinion, is to better understand nature. That means studying the Earth, but also venturing out into the cosmos. And nothing has gone farther out into the black than Voyager 1, the NASA spacecraft launched 36 years ago. It's now about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) from the sun, venturing for the first time into interstellar space, outside of our star's heliosphere.
“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 John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “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.”
The fact that the probe from 1977 is still operational and still communicating with us is very impressive on its own:
Voyager mission controllers still talk to or receive data from Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 every day, though the emitted signals are currently very dim, at about 23 watts -- the power of a refrigerator light bulb. By the time the signals get to Earth, they are a fraction of a billion-billionth of a watt. Data from Voyager 1's instruments are transmitted to Earth typically at 160 bits per second, and captured by 34- and 70-meter NASA Deep Space Network stations. Traveling at the speed of light, a signal from Voyager 1 takes about 17 hours to travel to Earth. After the data are transmitted to JPL and processed by the science teams, Voyager data are made publicly available.
To celebrate Voyager 1's new milestone, NASA made this great video:
And Neil deGrasse Tyson, Wil Wheaton, Carl Sagan's son and others have messages for the Voyager 1 spacecraft:
Here's an iconic photo of Jupiter's Great Red Spot taken by Voyager 1: