NASA’s Voyager 1, which last week made headlines after scientists announced it had officially left our solar system, is now more than 11 billion miles from Earth. It has traveled farther than any other object humanity has ever produced.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t still spot it in the sky from Earth. Using a network of 10 radio telescopes called the Very Long Baseline Array, astronomers found and photographed the glow coming from Voyager’s main transmitter. The signal is beaming from the satellite at 22 watts, “which is comparable to a typical police car radio or — in visible light — a refrigerator light bulb,” says the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) team that tracked down the little probe that could.
Even though Voyager’s transmission broadcasts at such low power, they say, it is significantly stronger than any of the naturally occurring radio waves around it. Another instrument, called the Green Bank telescope, picked out Voyager from the background noise within one second.
Artist’s concept of Europa water vapor plume. Image: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI
ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.
That warning, as given in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two novel, was pretty explicit but apparently it is going to go unheeded by NASA.
According to Space.com, NASA wants to launch a mission to Europa by 2025. Yesterday’s White House 2015 federal budget request allocates $15 million to develop a space program to visit the icy moon of Jupiter, which has a potentially life-supporting ocean of liquid water underneath its icy exterior.
“Europa is a very challenging mission operating in a really high radiation environment, and there’s lots to do to prepare for it,” said NASA chief financial officer Beth Robinson. “We’re looking to launch sometime in the mid-2020s.”
While the space program is wide open, one candidate project is NASA’s Europa Clipper, a probe that would orbit Jupiter and make flyby trips to Europa to study the moon’s environment. An exciting potential is to have the probe cruise through Europa’s 125-mile-high water plumes, spotted by Hubble back in December 2013, to collect and analyze samples.
Artist’s concept of the Europa Clipper mission. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech