Some day it’s entirely possible that the human race will be wiped out. Maybe we’ll do it ourselves, maybe we’ll be taken out by a rogue asteroid, or maybe we’ll survive until the sun turns into a red giant and burns away the Earth’s crust. Maybe we’ll make it out of the solar system in time to colonize other planets before that happens, but even if we don’t, somewhere out there in the universe at least something will survive as a signpost to say “hey we were here”.
Voyager 1, the space probe originally launched by NASA back in 1977, has escaped the solar system. It’s the first man-made object ever to leave our solar system, the first tangible evidence, to any creature which might be out there in the universe, that we are here and we exist. I can’t think of anything bigger or more important.
It’s taken 35-years but The Atlantic says that over the last few weeks Voyager 1 has been leaving our solar system’s heliosphere, that’s the last part of what is officially considered our solar system, before it enters uncharted and unknown deep space. The heliosphere is a bubble of charged particles surrounding our solar system and, since the Voyager was built to last, it’s been reporting back on what it finds there via radio. It’s detecting the heliosphere’s energy particles around it and beginning to detect increased heat, as it boldly goes where humanity has never been before.
Voyager 1 is now 11,100,000,000 miles away from the little blue dot called Earth, the only place in the universe where you can find an intelligent race called “humanity”.
Walking on the moon, splitting the atom, both great achievements, but ultimately fleeting. If the Earth is destroyed tomorrow, there will be no sign that any of it ever happened. But Voyager 1 will keep going. No matter what happens to us now, in Voyager 1, we know that at least some piece of us will continue on. That’s huge.
Think about it for a second. We’ve sent something out of the solar system. This is humanity screaming as loudly as it can out into the cosmos. To the cosmos and anything listening out in it, our voice is only the tiniest, almost undetectable whisper; yet for the first time in the billions of years this universe has existed, there’s something out there delivering the most important message humanity will ever send…
“We are here. We are here. We are here.”
It’s the only message that matters. This is the most important thing humanity has ever done. Tune in to your local news tomorrow night. They won’t be talking about it. They won’t be talking about it because we no longer care, but maybe we should. To the universe, we’re just a tiny little speck. But this speck has a voice. Maybe it’s time we shouted louder.
NASA reports that Voyager 1 has enough battery life to keep reporting back until the year 2020. After that it goes silent, it will become a dead relic drifting endlessly through the stars. Maybe someday, someone or something will find it and wonder who made it. Maybe they won’t. But even if we never do shout any louder, Voyager will be out there, sailing through the cosmos. Somewhere out there is tangible evidence of an intelligent race of people who once lived on a tiny blue speck and reached out into the stars to shout: We are here! We are here!
- Voyager Spacecraft: Beyond the Solar System (space.com)
- 35-Year-Old Voyager 2 Probe Is NASA’s Longest Mission Ever (space.com)