Friday, September 13, 2013

One gigantic step

What were you doing in 1977?

In the Spring of that year I remember buying the Fleetwood Mac album "Rumours" and playing it obsessively for weeks. Later in the Autumn I remember hearing the Sex Pistols and The Clash for the first time causing me to reject my precious Fleetwood Mac album (figuratively of course, it cost me £2.99 after all!) to buy a baggy mohair jumper, a pair of 10 hole DM's and to make my hair spiky. I remember being thoroughly bored by the whole silver jubilee thing (nothing changes) and upset that Marc Bolan died in a car crash, I guess you could say that I was a fairly typical stroppy teenager. What passed me by in my youthful self obsessed haze (I must have missed the relevant edition of "Tomorrow's World") was the launch of a spacecraft called "Voyager 1", despatched in September of that year it's mission was to study the outer planets. On 25th August 2012 (confirmed yesterday) that little tin bucket full of transistors and solder (plus an LP record) officially left our Solar System, the first man-made object to achieve that feat.

How far is it to the edge of our solar system?  About 12 billion miles or in other words, a bloody long way! Voyager is travelling at 100,000 miles per hour or to express that on a more understandable scale its about London to Bristol in 3 seconds! Even so, it has taken 36 years to reach proper "interstellar space" and what's more mind boggling is that even at this huge speed it will take a further 40,000 years to reach the next nearest star to our Sun! (unfortunately long after it's Plutonium power source has run out)

In some ways its a shame that Voyager was launched when it was, i.e. at the dawn of the digital age, if it had current digital/computer technology on board imagine the hi-resolution pictures it could be sending back. It's a sobering thought for us folks of a certain age that even if we launched another voyager now I probably wouldn't be around to see it reach the same point. On the positive (and less self obsessed) side though, what a fantastic achievement!

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