Monday, July 01, 2013

Voyager I & Distant Earth

News that NASA's Voyager I spacecraft is still within our solar system (just), after some 35 years of travel at unimaginable speed, is truly mind-blowing.

Since last summer the spacecraft has been exploring uncharted territory where the effects of interstellar space, the space between stars, can be felt. Scientists don't know how wide this new found region in the solar system is or how much farther Voyager I has to travel to break to the other side. "It could actually be anytime or it could be several more years," said chief scientist Ed Stone of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission.

What an achievement though ! When held against 21st century drone strikes and cyber-snooping doesn't it show how far we have fallen into disrepute since 1977 when Voyagers I and II were launched? It reminds me of Pilgrim's Progress....but in reverse: from Celestial City to City of Destruction!

From NASA's website

(Voyager I has come up before in posts, in 2007 and 2012.)

Harking back to my old "Music Monday" habit, a piece of music occurs to me in relation to the above.

Songs of Distant Earth, Mike Oldfield's album released in 1994, based on Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel The Songs of Distant Earth, which I'm currently reading. The whole of Mike Oldfield's album, almost an hour long, is available on YouTube, as well as some shorter versions. Here's a 5 minute taster comprising two sections The Chamber and Hibernaculum

Arthur C. Clarke's novel is set in the far distant future: the 39th century, some 200 years after Earth's sun had "gone nova". Mankind had had a thousand years' warning of coming destruction, and had sent seed ships out into space in the direction of what appeared to be hospitable systems and planets. These ships contained seeds to rebuild mankind - human and domestic animal embryos, and the bacteria necessary for human survival. Early life would be shepherded by robots. Vast distances involved would take hundreds, maybe thousands, of years to cover. After the seed ships were launched, and during the following century or two discoveries were made enabling faster space travel, close to 20% of the speed of light. By the time Earth's destruction was imminent, a million humans, in hibernation, in a state of the art spaceship named Magellan, were able to escape the devastation. Their ultimate destination was a planet named Sagan Two.

The Magellan's route passed close to a planet named Thalassa, one of the destinations of an earlier seed ship. Colonization of Thalassa had been initially reported to Earth, but then all contact had been lost. The Magellan, needing to re-ice its deflector after collisons with space dust, decided to investigate the possibility of using water from Thalassa's vast oceans. The planet being mostly ocean with just three large islands where the colony of humans could have survived. Humans had survived - and flourished - in what appeared to be an idyllic existence. The Magellan's arrival upset the serene lifestyle of Thalassans. Magellan crew mingled with the Thalassan population, became involved in various ways with those who, though of the same species, fellow-humans, had never known life on Earth, and had felt little in the way of challenge or stress, throughout their lives. The people aboard Magellan, now out of hibernation, inevitably carried horrendous memories of Earth's last years.

Culture clash!

How could humanity thrive without the existence of challenge, one wonders. Human history has been filled with challenges and struggles from its outset, first against the elements, the search for food, wild animals, and of course struggle against one another, individually and communally. If the "struggle gene" were bred out of the species over several hundreds of years what would happen?

I shall not get into the astrological argument which hovers here, I've strayed far enough from Voyager One already.


mike said...

It seems that the USA's space program is in decline, but I believe it has simply changed direction, evolving with the newer technologies available and attempting to maximize the return on the dollars spent. There are many academic questions to be answered, but far faster methods of obtaining the data than the older style of launching craft that take decades to achieve their mission, if all goes well.

Here is a link showing the galactic center magnetic eruptions, somewhat analogous to your photo-cartoon provided by NASA of the solar system's magnetic field. The image is from a radio telescope:

Here are images from the Spitzer infrared telescope of the same galactic core:

Here's a trio of Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer images of the galactic core. This series of investigation tools has provided some of the most astounding data regarding the physics of a relativistic vs quantum universe:

Here's a link to PBS' Nova "Earth From Space", detailing the abundance of information obtained from multi-satellite data analysis of our Earth.

All of the USA's space programs are vulnerable to budget cuts and decisions need to be made regarding the distribution of funds for military, judicial, education, social programs, interest pay-back on borrowed money, etc. The USA has spent TRILLIONS on two wars over the past decade that has crippled our economy and will have economic ramifications long after the end.

However, you make a good point in that there are aspects of space exploration, such as the solar boundary to outer space, that cannot be determined without observational craft being sent out. The Mariner, Pioneer, Viking, Venera, and Voyager series of crafts have provided unique data not possible with other technologies.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the links. Yes - investigation does goes on in ways beyond actual exploration. But we could be doing so much more if priorities were re-considered.

I lurve to listen to Neil de Grasse Tyson on this topic (or any topic, come to that). Here he is :

I'm going to embed that video as an update to the first part of my post too. :-)