Thursday, January 29, 2015


It`s getting on for 38 years ago since the Voyager Space probes were launched.  The mission of the two spacecraft was to explore the outer planets of the solar system, which was achieved with spectacular results, sending back to Earth stunning images of Jupiter, Saturn`s rings and much more . And then they just kept going and going, and they continue to send their messages back home and will continue to do so until about 2020 when their transmitting power finally runs out.

Trouble is, the distances are now so great that it takes 18 hours or so for the messages to be received.  Important though that may be, the astonishing thing is that, after all that time and distance, the messages are able to be sent and received at all.  And what distances are we talking about here?   Well, discounting the fact that the spacecraft are travelling at something like 38,000 mph, meaning that the distance is forever increasing, Voyager 1 is about 12 billion miles away, Voyager 2 about 10 billion miles away and counting.

The picture above was taken by the space probe as long ago as 1990 - 25 years ago, when Voyager was a mere 6 billion miles from Earth - and when it was just about possible to make out the Earth showing up as  a blue dot in the red circle.   By now, it must be virtually impossible to make out the Earth in the vastness of space and whilst that might be `impressive` in itself, even that pales into insignificance when one realises that it will be some 40,000 years before Voyager gets even `close` to another, relatively nearby star.

Gliese 445 is in the constellation of Camelopardialis, `close` to the pole star Polaris and in about 40,000 years time, Voyager 1 will  pass within 1.6 light years of that star - merely the distance that light, travelling at 186,000 miles a second, will cover in a little over a year and a half.   You do the maths. 

So why am I boring you will all of this?   Well, the `blue dot` picture gives a clue.   Bearing in mind that eventually Voyager will forever be orbiting our Milky Way galaxy; that Planet Earth resides on an unremarkable spiral arm of an unremarkable galaxy; that our galaxy contains billions of other stars and planets and that there are countless billions of other galaxies......and a little perspective of our place in the great scheme of space and time begins to emerge.

Here on our blue dot we have developed to the point whereby spectacular pursuits like the Voyager mission have become possible and we speculate whether we are alone in the Universe.   But surely if another `civilisation` more advanced than our own were to observe life on Planet Earth today, we would doubtless be dismissed as primitive, unsophisticated and not worthy of attention.

Truly, Mrs. Brown`s Boys, Graham Norton, Russell Brand, Harry Redknapp and their ilk have much to answer for.    

I expect you wish I had stayed away now........

1 comment:

Ray Turner said...

Yes, I agree. The achievements of the Voyager space probes are mind-boggling.

Pity there's no way of speeding those probes up a bit. 40,000 years is quite a long time...