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Here’s the view from humanity’s furthest spacecraft
Already 14 billion miles from the Sun, Voyager 1 is speeding away at 38,000 mph.
- Jimmy Carter was U.S. president and Elvis Presley was still alive in 1977, the year Voyager 1 was launched.
- Back in 1990, Voyager 1's last picture showed Earth as nothing more than a 'Pale Blue Dot'.
- Voyager 1 is now traversing interstellar space – here's what our solar system looks like from there.
Speeding towards the Serpent-bearer
Voyager 1 lifting off from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977.
Credit: NASA, public domain
What's the farthest place that humanity has gone? For a practical answer to that question rather than a philosophical one, direct your gaze to Ophiuchus, an equatorial constellation also known as Serpentarius.
Speeding towards Rasalhague and the other stars that make up the 'Serpent-bearer' is Voyager 1, the furthest human-made object in the Universe. It's currently 14.1 billion miles (22.8 billion km) from the Sun and speeding away at roughly 38,000 mph (61,000 km/h).
That's too far to observe Voyager 1 twinkle in the night sky. But you can turn the tables and see what it sees, as it looks back at us. Via NASA's Eyes website (and app), you can pay a virtual visit to where the spacecraft is now and explore its vantage as it hurtles towards the edge of the solar system.
There's Jupiter and Saturn, so seemingly close together; and Uranus, Pluto and Neptune, their orbits farther away. At the center of it all, the Sun. Nearby, the inner planets, including Earth: so close to it that they don't even get a name-tag. Those planets and their trajectories are so familiar yet now so distant, it's enough to make you homesick by proxy!
You can click and drag your way around Voyager 1, shifting your perspective to explore the region – spotting Sedna, Halley's Comet and a few other less familiar members of our solar family.
67 MB of data
Where it's at: this is what the view of the solar system is from Voyager 1 as it speeds into interstellar space.
Credit: NASA's Eyes, public domain
Although it's still sending data back to Earth, most of Voyager 1's instruments have now been powered down, and the craft is expected to go entirely dead by 2030 at the latest; but its incredible journey isn't over. In fact, it will most likely continue long after you, I and everything we know will have disappeared. Here's how it all started.
The year is 1977. Jimmy Carter's first year as president. Elvis Presley's last year alive. Star Wars hits the big screen. On September 10, Hamida Djandoubi becomes the last person ever to be guillotined in France. Five days earlier, Voyager 1 takes off from Cape Canaveral.
Voyager 1 is a small craft, weighing barely 1,820 lb. (825.5 kg). Its most prominent feature is a 12-ft (3.7-m) wide dish antenna, for talking with Earth – when there's no straight line of communication, a Digital Tape Recorder kicks in, able to hold up to 67 MB of data for later transmission. In all, Voyager 1 carries 11 different instruments to study the heavens.
Voyager 1 and its range of instruments, which have been progressively shut down as the craft's power waned.
Credit: NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The idea for the Voyagers, 1 and 2, grew out of the Mariner program's focus on the outer planets. The Voyagers got their own name as their field of study started to diverge towards the outer heliosphere and beyond.
The heliosphere is the 'solar bubble' created by the solar wind, i.e. the plasma emitted by the Sun. The region where solar wind slows down to below the speed of sound is called the termination shock. The heliopause is the outer limit of this bubble, where outward movement of solar plasma is nullified by interstellar plasma from the rest of the Milky Way. Beyond lies interstellar space.
The Voyagers were built to withstand the intense radiation in those far reaches of space – in part by applying a protective layer of kitchen-grade aluminum foil.
Humanity's farthest probe into the Universe was launched on September 5, 1977, confusingly 16 days after Voyager 2. More than 43 years later, the craft is still sending data back to Earth – but not for very much longer. Here are a few snapshots for the family album:
- December 19, 1977: Voyager 1 overtakes Voyager 2. Voyager 1 is travelling at a speed of 3.6 AU per year, while Voyager 2 is only going at 3.3 AU. So, Voyager 1 is constantly increasing its lead over its slower brother.
- Early 1979: Voyager 1 flies by Jupiter and its moons, taking close-ups of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and spotting volcanic activity on the moon Io – the first time ever this was observed outside Earth.
- Late 1980: flyby of Saturn and its moons, especially Titan. The flybys of the two gas giants gave 'gravity assists' that helped Voyager 1 continue its journey.
- February 14, 1990: Voyager takes a 'Solar System Family Portrait', its final picture and the first one of the solar system from the outside. It included an image of the Earth from 6 billion km (3.7 billion mi) away, as a 'Pale Blue Dot'.
- February 17, 1998: Voyager 1 reaches 69.4 AU from the Sun, overtaking Pioneer 10 and becoming the most distant spacecraft sent from Earth.
- 2004: Voyager 1 becomes the first craft to reach termination shock, at about 94 AU from the Sun. The Astronomic Unit (AU) is the average distance from Sun to Earth (about 93 million mi, 150 million km or 8 light minutes).
- August 25, 2012: after a few months of 'cosmic purgatory' and 10 days before the 35th anniversary of its launch, Voyager 1 became the first human-made vessel to cross the heliopause, at 121 AU, thus entering interstellar space.
- Soon after, Voyager 1 entered a region still under some influence of the Sun, which scientists dubbed the 'magnetic highway'.
- November 28, 2017: all four of Voyager 1's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters are used for the first time since November 1980. This will allow Voyager 1 to continue to transmit data for longer.
- November 5, 2018: Voyager 2 crosses the heliopause, departing the heliosphere. Both Voyagers are now in interstellar space.
Artist's impression of Voyager 1 passing the rings of Saturn in 1980.
Credit: NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
While both Voyagers have now left the heliosphere, that doesn't mean they're outside the solar system yet. The latter is defined as the vastly larger region of space, populated by all the bodies that orbit the Sun. The limit of the Solar system is the outer edge of the Oort cloud.
As available power declined, more and more of the Voyager 1's instruments and systems have been turned off – prioritising the instruments that send back data on the heliosphere and interstellar space. It is expected that the last instruments will cease operation sometime between 2025 and 2030.
Travelling at just about 61,200 km/h (38,000 mph) relative to the Sun, the craft will need 17 and a half millennia to cover the distance of a single light year. Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, is 4.2 light-years away. If Voyager 1 were going in that direction, it would need almost 74 millennia to get there. But it isn't. So, what is next?
- In 2024, NASA plans to launch the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), which will build on Voyager's observations of the heliopause and interstellar space.
- In about 300 years, Voyager 1 will reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud.
- In about 30,000 years, it will exit the Oort Cloud – finally leaving the solar system altogether.
- In about 40,000 years, it will pass within 1.6 light-years of Gliese 445, a star in the constellation Camelopardalis.
- In about 300,000 years, it will pass within less than 1 light-year of the star TYC 3135-52-1.
- According to NASA, Voyagers 1 and 2 "are destined – perhaps eternally – to wander the Milky Way."
Blind Willie in space
Flying on board Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical 'golden' records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space.
Credit: NASA, public domain
Both Voyager 1 and 2 carry a Golden Record that contains pictures, scientific data, spoken greetings, a sampling of whale song and other Earth sounds, and a mixtape of musical favorites, from Mozart to Chuck Berry.
Perhaps in a distant future and place, some alien intelligence with a record player will have a listen to Blind Willie Johnson hum Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and think of us: "What a strange old planet that must have been."
Strange Maps #1065
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- Hasta La Vista, Voyagers - Big Think ›
- Carl Sagan's 'Sounds of Earth' Golden Voyager Record May Soon ... ›
- Voyager 1 Isn't Done Surprising Us Yet - Big Think ›
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.