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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To infinity and beyond...

Sounds like Buzz Lightyear... but this one is real!

Back in 1977... remember (if you were born by then), we all had shag carpet and avocado green refrigerators in our homes... oh, and if we were really cool, we wore leisure suits. And if we lived in New York City and wanted to visit Aunt Betty and Uncle Bernie in Denver, we usually drove.

Let's see... that is about 1680 miles or so. At 70 mph ( heavy foot/lots of coffee), we could get there in just 24 hours of drive time. Pretty impressive.

Consider this: In 1977, the United States launched two space craft--Voyager 1 and Voyager 2--to soar past Jupiter, then Saturn. Well, they did. In fact, by 1989, just 12 years later, they blew by Neptune, about 3 billion miles away from Earth. And having no brakes, they just kept going.

Now, 34 years later, traveling at about 38,000 miles per hour (about 10 miles per second) without bathroom breaks, refueling or flat tires, these two buggers are about to leave our solar system, 12 billion miles away--a far cry from Denver--and about to cruise interstellar space. They are so far away, in fact, that it takes signals, which travel at 186,000 miles/second, 13 1/2 hours to reach Earth.

Another amazing piece of data... the two space probes run on nuclear power using less energy that it takes to light three average lamp bulbs, so it really doesn't matter that the price of gas keeps rising. The 23 watt high-grain antenna uses less power than a refrigerator bulb.

This is us, to all ETs paying attention
Each craft also carries a golden record that holds analog images and sounds of Earth... just in case someone out there cares to listen. Of course, this is before digital so they (whoever 'they' are) may need an old fashioned record player... just like the one I have for sale for only $25. Isn't putting buyer and seller together always the toughest part?

Now, how do you answer the proverbial question: "Are we there yet?" We really don't know for sure. There are, astronomers say, one trillion galaxies containing three septillion (3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars--yet to explore. So what happens when Voyager reaches the extreme edge of the universe as we know it? We'll find out in just 13.7 light years (at 186,000 miles per second). Truth is, the journey may be just starting.


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