Problem Solved! Voyager 1 is no Longer Sending Home Garbled Data!

Voyager 1
Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earlier this year, the teams attached to the Voyager 1 mission noticed that the venerable spacecraft was sending weird readouts about its attitude articulation and control system (called AACS, for short). The data it’s providing didn’t really reflect what was actually happening onboard. That was the bad news. The good news was that it didn’t affect science data-gathering and transmission. And, the best news came this week: team engineers have fixed the issue with the AACS and the data are flowing normally again.

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Voyager 1 is Sending Home Strange Telemetry Data

Old computer systems have a lot of wacky ways to fail. Computers that are constantly blasted by radiation have even more wacky ways to fail. Combine those two attributes, and eventually, you’re bound to have something happen. It certainly seems to have with Voyager 1. The space probe, which has been in active service for NASA for almost 45 years, is sending back telemetry data that doesn’t make any sense. 

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The Only Radio Antenna Capable of Communicating with Voyager 2 Came Back Online During Repairs and Upgrades. Contact Re-established

Crews conduct critical upgrades and repairs to the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra, Australia. In this image, one of the antenna's white feed cones (which house portions of the antenna receivers) is being moved by a crane. Credit: CSIRO

“Voyager 2, this is Earth calling. Do you read?”

Last week, the answer was finally “yes.” And thankfully, after eight months of no communications, Voyager2 seems to be just fine.

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The Pale Blue Dot: Now New and Improved

This updated version of the iconic "Pale Blue Dot" image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft uses modern image-processing software and techniques to revisit the well-known Voyager view while attempting to respect the original data and intent of those who planned the images. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thirty years have now passed since the Voyager 1 spacecraft snapped one of the most iconic and memorable pictures in spaceflight history. Known as the “Pale Blue Dot,” the heart-rending view shows planet Earth as a single, bright blue pixel in the vastness of space, as seen from the outer reaches of the solar system.

Now, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have provided a new and improved version, using state of the art image-processing software and techniques to reprocess the thirty-year-old image. JPL software engineer and image processor Kevin Gill, whose images we feature often on Universe Today, led the effort.

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Voyager 2 Went Into Fault Protection Mode, But Engineers Brought it Back Online

Voyager 2. Credit: NASA
Artist's impression of the Voyager 2 space probe. Credit: NASA

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft went into fault protection mode on Tuesday January 28th. The fault protection routines automatically protect the spacecraft in harmful conditions. Both Voyagers have these routines programmed into their systems.

After it happened, NASA engineers were still in communication with the spacecraft and receiving telemetry.

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What Voyager 2 Learned After Spending a Year in Interstellar Space

An artist concept depicting one of NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft, humanity's farthest and longest-lived spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Only two of humanity’s spacecraft have left the Solar System: NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Voyager 1 left the heliosphere behind in 2012, while Voyager 2 did the same on Nov. 5th, 2018. Now Voyager 2 has been in interstellar space for one year, and five new papers are presenting the scientific results from that one year.

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NASA has Figured Out How to Extend the Lives of the Voyagers Even Longer

This artist's concept depicts one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft, including the location of the cosmic ray subsystem (CRS) instrument. Both Voyagers launched with operating CRS instruments. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Voyagers 1 and 2 have the distinction of being in space for 42 years and still operating. And even though they’re 18 billion km (11 billion miles) from the Sun, they’re still valuable scientifically. But they’re running out of energy, and if NASA wants them to continue on much longer, they have some decisions to make.

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Voyager and Pioneer’s Grand Tour of the Milky Way

Artist concept of Voyager 1's View of Solar System. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Zachary and S. Redfield (Wesleyan University); Artist's Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

During the early 1990s, NASA’s Pioneer 10 and 11 probes became the first robotic missions to venture beyond Neptune. In 2012 and 2018, the Voyager 1 and 2 missions went even farther by crossing the heliopause and entering interstellar space. Eventually, these probes may reach another star system, where their special cargo (the Pioneer Plaques and the Golden Records) could find their way into the hands of another species.

Which raises an important question: where might these spacecraft eventually wander? To address this, Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently conducted a study that examined which star systems the Voyager and Pioneer probes will likely encounter as they drift through the Milky Way over the next few million years…

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Saturn is Losing its Rings, Fast. They Could be Gone Within 100 Million Years

This portrait looking down on Saturn and its rings was created from images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Oct. 10, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/G. Ugarkovic

It has been almost forty years since the Voyager 1 and 2 missions visited the Saturn system. As the probes flew by the gas giant, they were able to capture some stunning, high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere, its many moons, and its iconic ring system. In addition, the probes also revealed that Saturn was slowly losing its rings, at a rate that would see them gone in about 100 million years.

More recently, the Cassini orbiter visited the Saturn system and spent over 12 years studying the planet, its moons and its ring system. And according to new research based on Cassini’s data, it appears that Saturn is losing its rings at the maximum rate predicted by the Voyager missions. According to the study, Saturn’s rings are being gobbled up by the gas giant at a rate that means they could be gone in less 100 million years.

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Finally! Voyager 2 is Now in Interstellar Space

NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space This illustration shows the position of NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 exited the heliosphere in August 2012. Voyager 2 exited at a different location in November 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On August 25th, 2012, the Voyager 1 spacecraft accomplished something no human-made object ever had before. After exploring the Uranus, Neptune, and the outer reaches of the Solar System, the spacecraft entered interstellar space. In so doing, it effectively became the most distant object from Earth and traveled further than anyone, or anything, in history.

Well, buckle up, because according to NASA mission scientists, the Voyager 2 spacecraft recently crossed the outer edge of the heliopause – the boundary between our Solar System and the interstellar medium – and has joined Voyager 1 in interstellar space.  But unlike its sibling, the Voyager 2 spacecraft carries a working instrument that will provide the first-ever observations of the boundary that exists between the Solar System and interstellar space.

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