“Goodbye, Voyager”…a beautiful universe captured over half a century

The space probe ‘Voyager’, which has been in flight for 45 years since launch in 1977, is about to retire.

Recently, local media such as Scientific America reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would introduce the Voyager into a ‘shutdown’ that gradually reduces the power of the spacecraft this year.

Voyager is powered by a type of nuclear battery power called a radioactive isotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which loses energy by 4 watts per year and is reaching the end of its life. NASA has operated with some systems turned off to conserve even a little of Voyager’s energy, but this too was not enough to resist the passage of time.

Voyager 1's approach to Jupiter was recorded over a period of over 60 days.  Photo = NASA/JPL

Voyager’s mission, which lasted more than half a century, is in the final stages, but the achievements so far have exceeded expectations. Voyager was originally launched as a four-year project to explore Jupiter and Saturn when she launched in 1977, but her goal was switched to interstellar space in 1989, continuing her 45th year of exploration.

Voyager 1, the furthest out of mankind’s space probes, is currently flying in interstellar space about 23.3 billion km from Earth, and Voyager 2 is flying about 19.5 billion km away. Even if it travels at the speed of light, it would take about 22 hours.

Before Voyager turned off its power-consuming camera equipment, I collected images it sent to Earth during its long journey. Voyager came close to Jupiter in 1979. She discovered Jupiter’s moons ‘Thebes’ and ‘Metis’, and among them, she took pictures of lava flowing nearly 300 km from Io, where she first confirmed the volcanic activity of the moons.

Jupiter and two moons captured by Voyager.  Photo = NASA/JPL

Between 1980 and 1981 it passed Saturn. Voyager discovered that most of Saturn’s atmosphere was made up of hydrogen and helium. He also confirmed for the first time that Saturn’s rings are complex structures.

Voyager 1 and 2 passed Saturn in November 1980 and August 1981, respectively.  Photo = NASA/JPL

This is a beautiful photograph that captures Saturn’s moon Enceladus in detail down to the surface.

One of Saturn's moons, Enceladus, as seen by Voyager.  Photo = NASA/JPL
Uranus taken by Voyager 2 on January 17, 1986.  Photo = NASA/JPL

Voyager 2 landed on Uranus, the 7th planet in the solar system in 1986. It was the first and the last time to show the appearance of Uranus in a close-flying flight to the people of Earth.

A view of Neptune as seen by Voyager.  Photo = NASA/JPL

In the summer of 1989, Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to observe Neptune. The last target planet, Neptune, and the rough surface of its moon ‘Triton’ were captured in detail. The following year, in 1990, Voyager took the Earth of the ‘Pale Blue Dot’, one of the most philosophical astrophotography in human history, and then turned the camera off completely to save energy.

Pale blue dots.  In 1990, Voyager 1 turned its camera toward Earth from about 6 billion kilometers from the Sun.  The Earth in the picture appeared as a small dot floating in the vast universe.  Photo = NASA/JPL-Caltech

If Voyager runs out of power in the future, communication with Earth is cut off forever. However, even after the power is turned off, their mission continues.

According to NASA, about 300 years later, Voyager will reach the edge of the Oort Cloud, the ‘hometown of comets’ that surrounds the solar system. It will arrive at the nearest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, in 16,700 years.

Can Voyager meet aliens? Voyager has a ‘golden record’ that it carried at the time of departure. The edition contains greetings, images and music in 60 languages ​​to depict the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

Voyager's final mission is to deliver the 'Golden Record' to the aliens.  Photo = NASA/JPL

Reporter Min-ha Yang (