Voyager 1 and 2 are spacecraft that NASA launched in 1977 to collect information about Saturn and Jupiter. After making notable discoveries related to Saturn’s rings, and Jupiter’s atmosphere, Voyager 2 then flew by Neptune and Uranus and collected information about those planets.
In August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space, followed by Voyager 2 in December 2018. Interstellar space is defined as “where the Sun’s constant material flow and magnetic field stop affecting its surroundings.” But, if we define our solar system as the Sun and everything that primarily orbits the Sun, they Voyager spacecraft will remain within the confines of the solar system until it emerges from the Oort cloud in another 14,000 to 28,000 years. Source. Here’s a helpful schematic of the paths Voyager 1 and 2 took.
Pale Blue Dot
Notably, Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990, when it was 3.7 billion miles from the Sun, took a picture of the Earth now known as the “Pale Blue Dot.” Here it is:
Can you spot Earth?
Astronomer Carl Sagan said of the picture, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
The Voyager Spacecraft are Running out of Battery
Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network, a collection of powerful antennae worldwide that communicate with dozens of missions. It’s pretty amazing. They were designed to last five years and are still transmitting 46 years later.
But the spacecraft are running out of battery. NASA scientists have been turning off various instruments for years to save battery. “NASA is squeezing out all the juice possible, but it’s reasonable to expect more science instruments to start shutting down by 2025 or 2026 — although some may last to around the end of the decade.” Source.
The Golden Records
Even after the Voyager spacecraft stop transmitting, they may be useful and introduce us to intelligent alien lifeforms. That’s because each spacecraft has a 12-inch gold-plated copper phonograph record with a greeting to any lifeforms that might be encountered. The discs contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth and to serve as a type of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.
The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages. Source.
The records have schematics that provide instructions on how extraterrestrials can play them.
The records include Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, humpback whale songs, a Bulgarian folk song, recordings of brain waves, a Morse code message, traffic noise, statements of greeting in 55 languages.
You can view the 115 images here.
Will an alien race intercept a Voyager spacecraft and learn about us from the golden records? If so, it will likely be long after we’re all dead (and maybe our species is extinct), as they have about 40,000 years before they might approach another planetary system.