A quick trip to the outer reaches

A photo of the moon, looking red.

It takes 34 hours and 48 minutes to make the 18.8 billion kilometre round-trip from Earth and back in order to reach Voyager 2 and get a response. That’s only if you’re travelling by radio signal though, not something you’re going to be doing in person.

Voyager 2 is the first of the two Voyagers to leave this planet and head for “far, far away”. The original mission was to study the planets in our solar system – a mission successfully completed some 31 years ago. That hasn’t stopped these two chatty space travellers from continually sending info over the years.

Other than their departure date, which saw Voyager 2 blast off some two weeks earlier, the major difference between these two is that they took slightly different paths when it came time to the flypast of Neptune. Voyager 2 flew over the planet’s north pole in order to get a close look at the moon, Triton.

The change in course resulted in a “southward” change in trajectory – in relation to the plane of the planets. This means there is only one place on earth still capable of communicating with Voyager 2, and that’s Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) located in Canberra, Australia.

Where a number of stations in both the northern and southern hemisphere can still communicate with Voyager 1 which was travelling at around 17km every second back in 2013 already, just the Australian station in the south is still able to communicate with Voyager 2 thanks to that change in trajectory.

DSS43 has been undergoing an upgrade recently, so there hasn’t been communication with Voyager 2 since around April this year. With communication restored, the second satellite to enter interstellar space continues on its journey.

This interstellar space is the space between stars, and the Voyagers are now outside of the heliosphere (the protective bubble created by the sun which protects the planets in our solar system from cosmic rays).

While both Voyagers have exceeded all expectations in terms of their original mission, it is expected that there are just a few more years of communication left. The nuclear batteries providing onboard power are expected to be too weak for communication by 2032.

On a final note, I took a week off from this writing thing. It was necessary. There are many things that interest us and take up our time, interests that we use to fill our time. Even though we enjoy these things, sometimes it is necessary to take a break, a breather, to refresh our minds and our interest. This past week was one of those breaks.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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