From the craft itself, to what it is doing in space, to the new information is has discovered, join me as we explore how the Voyager 2 is back online and gathering data again!
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Space is huge, and because of that, we need help exploring it, even when it’s just exploring our solar system. It took us an incredible amount of time just to find and understand part of what makes our solar system special. From the 9 (not eight!) planets, to the moons of the planets, to the sun, and more. But to really venture into deep space and understand what’s out there, we needed not one, but two probes known as Voyager (enter Star Trek reference here).
Voyager 1 is a probe that humanity sent out to observe the universe at large, and it’s currently well past Pluto and has shown us many things about our solar system. In 2017, it was set at around 138 AU’s from our planet. AU means “Astronomical Unit”, which in this case means the distance from the Earth to the Sun. So 138 AU’s means that it’s 138 times far than the Earth is from the sun right now. That’s a really big number. Over 12 billion miles to be exact. That’s the farthest anything from man has traveled in space.
One of its crowning achievements was a photograph showing a set of sunbeams, and in one of those sunbeams was earth. It was a dot. A dot in a grander scale photograph of our solar system. That’s how small we are in the scale of our system when you look from the outside in, we are a dot. An epic dot, but a dot no doubt.
As for Voyager 2, despite it launching BEFORE Voyager 1 (by 16 days), it was set on a similar mission to explore the solar system. Albeit via a different route that took it past Neptune and Uranus. The point here is that these two probes are the farthest things that humanity has sent into the solar system. They have traveled incredible distances and are still revealing things about our solar system that continue to both boggle the mind and astound us.
Voyager 2 is now in Interstellar Space, a crowning achievement in and of itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s been all smooth sailing, far from it in certain ways In February 2020, it was noted by NASA that something had gone wrong with Voyager 2, and as such they had problems getting it to work properly. Given that the probe is in space that humanity hasn’t touched, and will likely not touch themselves for a long time, this is to be expected. However, a few days after that announcement, they revealed to the world that they had stabilized the problems on the craft and got it back up and working.
But what exactly caused the problems of the probe? Well, that would be a failed maneuver. Voyager 2 was supposed to do a rotation move that would shut off some of its instruments and thus conserve power. However, for whatever reason, the probe didn’t do it, and because of that, the scientific instruments that were on at the time…remained on…which made it so that the probe eventually shut down prematurely.
Not something you want to happen in the reaches of interstellar space when ANYTHING can happen in the blink of an eye.
This failure could’ve been catastrophic, because you see, to ensure that the probe would have a long life in space, it was given the bare essentials in many aspects, including its power supply. Believe it or not, despite being in space for over 42 years the Voyager 2 doesn’t have the biggest power supply, it actually uses radioactive fuel to produce heat, and thus power. But to conserve that power, it shuts off non-essential systems when it’s not using them.
So for the move to fail caused a serious drain in power, and likely sent NASA into quite a frenzy as they tried to make it work once again. Thankfully for them, on February 5th, 2020, they were able to connect with Voyager 2 once again, and confirm that it was up and running and able to continue its scientific mission in regards to examining and studying interstellar space.
“Voyager 2 has returned to normal operations following the anomaly on Jan. 25, 2020,” NASA officials wrote in a statement. “The five operating science instruments, which were turned off by the spacecraft’s fault protection routine, are back on and returning normal science data.”
To give you some context as to how dramatic that is in terms of time and space. At present, it takes a signal from NASA to the Voyager 2 (or vice versa) about 17 hours. Which means that Voyager 2 is indeed one of the farthest man-made object in space right now. It’s almost as far in space as Voyager 1. And that also means that if NASA asked Voyager 2 something, and it replied, it would take about a day and a half for NASA to get its answer. That makes it 122 times greater in distance from the Earth than the sun is. Or 122 AUs.