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46 years ago, the Voyager probes took off

In 1977 The probes took off in space Voyager, two twin probes that revolutionized our knowledge of the Solar System and then pushed beyond the limits of the Solar System. Voyagers have in fact given us a complete picture of the outer part of the system, bringing out the so-called. Planetary Grand Tour jumping from giant to giant until he leaves the Solar System forever. Located today almost a light-day away from Earth, the Voyagers are the most distant objects built by mankind, and their story is far from over.

Column of Ercole

There the 60s they were the moments when we moved our Pillars of Hercules outside the Kármán line, that line which ideally separates the atmosphere from proper space. If already in 1946 we received the first image of the Earth from space It’s in there 1957 we launched the first real satellite, lo Sputnik Iit was actually in the 60s that we came out from the cradle of our planet. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first person in orbit, in 1964 he left there Navy 4there first martian probe. In 1969 Then there would be the small step for man, the giant leap for humanity, the moon landing and that we set foot on the surface of another planetary body for the preceding in history. In the first mid 70’s Then there Navy 10 I visit Venus e Mercury not Venera 9 and 10 get the first images from the Venusian surface. But our limits seemed to limit us there, in the inner solar system, because any launch beyond the main asteroid belt would require a large amount of propellant, in some cases more than the rockets themselves could carry (especially if we planned to go towards the ice giants Uranus and Neptune).

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Gravity sling

The limit was there 2-body problem. We could only calculate the orbits using 2 bodies at a time: the Sun and a planet, the probe and Earth, the probe and Mars, and so on. The problem had a simple solution, there Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Even add one planetary body to this problem (known 3-body problem), was a drama. But it was necessary, because we needed to know what happened to a probe when it passed near the planets, and therefore consider a system in which The bodies involved were the Sun, the planet, and the probe. We do not have a simple mathematical solution to the 3-body problem, even today. In the 60s nonetheless, al Jet Propulsion Laboratory from Nasa a young doctor arrived, Michael Minovitchwho could lay his hands on a IBM 7090, one of the first computers and one of the most powerful of its time. With that, he changed the rules of the game: he did not solve the 3-body problem, but he invented a technique to find a solution, albeit an approximate one. Through a series of successive calculations, he refined the orbit of the 3 bodies more and more, thus managing to simulate it effectively. That’s how he found out gravitational sling: when the probe passes near a planet, it steals some of the energy of the planet orbiting the Sun. This energy can be used. instead of propellants in order to change the orbit of the spacecraft.

Grand Tour Planetarium

With gravity slingshot, a sea of ​​possibilities opens up. They did a test with the Navy 10, from Venus used – successfully – a gravitational slingshot in the direction of Mercury. Since then we have never done without a sling, for any space investigation. At this point it was possible to really think about the exploration of the outer solar system. And that was the way Voyager Program: two twin probes that would exploit this innovative technique to visit the gas and ice giants. There August 20, 1977 he left there Voyager 2il September 5 he left there Voyager 1.

The last to leave is the first to fly Jupiter in 1979Then with a gravity sling he would come to visit Saturn in 1980 and there, after being examined Titanium it would have inclined its trajectory, leaving forever the plane on which the planets orbit. There Voyager 2that happened on Saturn 1981he continued towards Uranus e Neptune. These two planets, reach respectively 1986 It’s in there 1989never received a visit from another space probe, thus holding the record for most planets neglected in the planetary system. In fact, whatever high-resolution information we have about these worlds, we owe to Voyager 2. But more generally, by flying over the giants, Voyager allowed us to discover a lot about these worlds. and the moons, from Jupiter’s lightning to the volcanoes of Io, from the structure of Saturn’s rings and those of Uranus and Neptune, from cryovolcanic phenomena on Triton to the great dark spot of Neptune. Whole books would not be enough to discuss the extent of the scientific results of Voyager’s planetary Grand Tour.


After the last planetary stop, both spacecraft arrive escape velocity from the solar systemthat is, the one that allows it to abandon the gravity of the Sun 1990 Voyager 1 turns for the last time and takes off The earth is 6 billion kilometers in the famous image Speak Blue Dotwhich is described by Carl Sagan in the book of the same name 1993.

Dal 2012 for Voyager 1 and since 2018 for Voyager 2 we say these probes are interstellar, because they passed the boundary of the solar magnetic field, where the charged particles in the Sun become less important than those from the galactic environment. Voyager 1 continues its trajectory toward the constellationOphiuchusVoyager 2 instead of the constellation of Andromedain which among the 40,000 he will approach a small starlet, a red dwarf named Ross 248 (or Hh Andromedae). Both probes carry a copy Golden records a golden disc ideally addressed to alien civilizations that might find it in the distant future. The disc includes music, voiceovers in several different languages, images transcribed in sound frequencies, sounds of the sea, wind and rain, forests and animals. The golden record looks like a history of Earth for alien civilizationsbut it is true a message to ourselvesme, to show us what we can do when we decide to use our intelligence to create charm.

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