The intrepid little space explorer Voyager 1 has been chatty lately, calling home to tell us all about these weird, new galactic rays it's meeting. The message is loud and clear: it's at the edge of the solar system and soon, it will become the first probe ever to venture into interstellar space. Our baby's all grown up and flying the coop! To honor this incredible mission and the spectacular data it has gathered about our solar neighborhood, we bring you a highlight reel of Voyager 1's eventful childhood.
September 5, 1977: Voyager 1 is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a few weeks after its sister Voyager 2, and takes the first spacecraft photo of the Earth and moon hanging out together. Both probes bear numerous instruments and a Golden Record, a gift from Earth to any intelligent beings the probe might encounter. Carl Sagan selected the contents of the record, which include bird and whale songs, pictures representing a broad range of cultures and landscapes, and an address from then President Carter.
December 10, 1977: Voyager 1 enters the asteroid belt, and exits un-pummeled.
December 19, 1977: Voyager 1 overtakes Voyager 2.
March 5-6, 1979: Voyager 1 gets up close-and-personal with Jupiter and its moons, and discovers the first active volcanoes outside of Earth on the Jovian moon Io!
November 12-13, 1980: Voyager 1 investigates Saturn and its moons, then begins its trip towards the edge solar system. Voyager 2 stays on course to explore Uranus and Neptune and their moons.
February 17, 1998: Voyager 1 overtakes Pioneer 10 to become the most distant spacecraft from the Sun.
December 15, 2004: Voyager 1 crosses the Termination Shock, an area just as badass as it sounds. The solar system is encased in a giant bubble made up of charged particles blown into space by strong solar winds, called a heliosphere. For 10 billion kilometers, the winds blow at speeds of over 1,000,000 km/hour but as the winds hit the interstellar medium outside of our solar system, they begin to slow. This region, where the Sun's reach weakens, is the Termination Shock, and we've now traveled there vicariously. Pretty epic, no?
May-June 2012: A steady increase in galactic cosmic rays are detected by Voyager 1's equipment, indicating that it has reached the heliopause, the true boundary of the solar system. It is currently 120 astronomical units from Earth (that's 18 billion kilometers!).
The Future: During its trip to the stars, still in its infancy, Voyager 1 has discovered and documented countless wonders and curiosities. Sadly, we will only see a glimpse of the uncharted territory of interstellar space through Voyager 1's eyes, as the probe will be powered down within the next 20 years.
But regardless of whether we follow it, Voyager 1 will continue to journey on bearing its instruments and its Golden Record for many millennia, reaching a nearby red dwarf star called Gliese 445 in 40,000 years. Maybe somewhere along the way, an intelligent being will discover it and relax to the sounds of babies laughing and whales singing, marveling at the fact that there is at least one species in the Universe still using compact discs.
What would you have put on board Voyager 1?