Category: General

‘Retire’ the Voyager name

It took 35 years to make the leap, but a plucky little spacecraft has gone where none have gone before; beyond the bounds of the solar system and into the black between stars. Voyager 1 is our first starship; the first interstellar traveler. As such, the name Voyager should be “retired” from future use to honor the mission and humans who worked to make Voyager’s journey so remarkable.

On September 11, 2013, Voyager 1 officially sailed through the outer edges of our solar system on it Interstellar Mission. After exploring the outer planets, Voyager’s primary mission is to explore the edge of the heliosphere; a huge bubble of charged particles or plasma surrounding the Sun. It popped through that bubble sometime in the summer of 2012.

In 1977, Voyager 1 launched a couple months behind its sister, Voyager 2. It was an exciting era of space exploration. Scientists dreamed up a brilliant mission to take a Grand Tour and discover much about the outer solar system. Over the next few years, Voyager dazzled us with amazing close-up images and science of Jupiter and Saturn, then Uranus and Neptune.

19 Amazing Voyager Facts

  • Voyager 1 is traveling at more than 40,000 miles per hour crossing about 3.6 AU per year. Voyager 2 traverses a distance of nearly 3.3 AU per year.
  • Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune
  • Voyager 1 and 2 are the oldest pieces of space hardware still in contact with Earth.
  • It takes a message, traveling at the speed of light, more than 17 hours to reach the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
  • Even though New Horizons was launched at a faster speed than the Voyager spacecraft, the Pluto-bound probe will never overtake Voyager.
  • Each Voyager spacecraft is a complex machine comprised of about 65,000 individual parts. A modern color television contains just 2,500 parts.
  • In terms of mpg, Voyagers are extremely fuel efficient getting better than 30,000 miles per gallon.
  • The Voyager mission has been exceptionally frugal. The mission has costed only 8 cents per year, per US resident between 1972 and now to fund the mission.
  • Both Voyager spacecraft have enough fuel and power to operate until about 2020. NASA’s sensitive Deep Space Network could track the spacecraft for another century or two if not for the possibility that the spacecraft might lose their lock on the Sun.
  • Five trillion bits of data, enough information to fill more than 7,000 music CDs, flowed from Voyager’s instruments to Earth.
  • On September 18, 1977, Voyager 1 looked back at its homeworld and captured a three-image mosaic of the Earth and Moon. It was the first time both bodies were photographed together.
  • On February 17, 1990 Voyager turns its camera toward the Sun to take the only existing snapshot of the Solar System. Voyager’s last light shows a panorama of 60, sunlight-dappled images including the now famous “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth.
  • On February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 to become most distant human-made object in space.
  • Voyager’s vision is so sharp that the narrow-angle television cameras could read a newspaper headline at a distance of 1 kilometer or .62 miles.
  • Voyager spotted the first non-terrestrial active volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io.
  • Saturn’s rings became a dazzling and complex interaction of ice particles woven by the gravitational tug of Saturn and its moons.
  • Voyager 1 shows Saturn’s moon Titan is covered with a mysterious orange haze.
  • Uranus has a ring. Voyager spotted a faint, dark ring around the greenish gas giant.
  • Voyager 1 has traversed across more than 11 billion miles of space. That seems like a long way, and it is, but it will take Voyager 1 nearly 100,000 years to cross the distance between our Sun and the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Alas, both spacecraft will have lonely journeys. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will pass within 1.6 light-years of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation Camelopardalis. Also in 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will drift 1.7 light-years from Ross 248 on its way toward Sirius. In 296,000 years, the tiny Earth probe will pass just 4.3 light-years from the bright star.

[sexybutton size=”xxl” color=”red” url=”” icon=”ok”]Tell NASA to retire Voyager’s name[/sexybutton]

Join me in signing a petition to NASA and other space agencies to retire the Voyager name.

Sparkling Hook


As if waiting for cosmic fish, this hook-shaped galaxy sparkles in a deep image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Or perhaps you’ve turned your head and you see a galactic smile.

Explore the beautiful galaxy known as J082354.96+280621.6, or J082354.96 for short. Let us know what shapes or stories you see in the comments below.

J082354.96 is a starburst galaxy. These types of galaxies have high rates of star formation. As you explore the image, look for bright blue areas. These are new stars being born. J082354.96 is also warped meaning another galaxy has interacted with it millions of years in the past. As galaxies move near each other, gravity pushes and pulls the stars into unusual shapes. Gravity also pushes gas and dust together where it might collect, collapse and form a new star. You can see the cores and warped arms of the two interacting galaxies at the ends of the hook.

As you zoom across the image, look for faint galaxies far in the dark background. The two bright stars are actually stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy between Earth and J082354.96. The galaxy is found about 650 million light-years from Earth toward the northern constellation Lynx.

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Loops of Stars


A sparkling pink and purple loop floats in a sea of galaxies in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore this image of ring galaxy Zw II 28. What patterns or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Galaxies come in many shapes and sizes. Some galaxies have graceful spiral arms. Some galaxies appear as disks with bulges in the center. Other galaxies, called elliptical galaxies, are just giant, milky blobs of stars. Ring galaxies, like Zw II 28, are much rarer. Although the universe seems mostly empty, galaxies do collide. Usually they pass each other and combine leaving tell-tale tails of stars and bursts of star formation. But sometimes, one galaxy will pass right through the center of another leaving behind a ring galaxy.

Interactions between galaxies stir up gas and dust. As gas and dust are pushed together, or compressed, new stars form. In Zw II 28, the outer ring is glowing with pink clouds of gas and dust and will be the home of new stars. Sparkling in these clouds, look for blue patches of light. These are brand new stars. On the right side of the ring, just inside the inner loop, look for a brighter white area. This may be a companion galaxy or perhaps even the galaxy that collided with Zw II 28 to create this rare galaxy.

As you explore the galaxy, look for the dozens of galaxies that dot the background of the image.

Zw II 28, is found about 380 million light years from Earth toward the constellation of Orion.

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Spiral in a glittering galaxy


A spiral galaxy peeps through a sparkling array of stars in this image of ESO 318-13 from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the dazzling spray of stars and far-off galaxies; take in the objects near and far. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

Galaxies after all are mostly empty space. Light-years separate stars and if dark dust clouds don’t obscure the view, the galaxies become mostly transparent allowing distant background galaxies to shine through.

Pan to the center of the galaxy and you’ll find a bright star right in the middle. The stars of ESO 318-13 are brilliant in this image but they don’t compare to to the bright star that is actually much closer to Earth within our Milky Way Galaxy. Several bright stars are also members of our galaxy.

ESO 318-13 is an irregular dwarf galaxy millions of light-years from Earth. In this image, we see the galaxy along its edge. Although the stars are brilliant and crystal clear, the beautiful image doesn’t show us much of the galaxy’s structure. We do find many distant galaxies with distinct spiral and elliptical shapes scattered throughout the image.

ESO 318-13 is located toward the southern constellation Antlia, the Pump. French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille created this constellation in 1756 to commemorate the air pump. The constellation faces away from the Milky Way Galaxy and toward deeps space and has no bright stars.

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Ringing a Bulls-Eye


A galactic bulls-eye ringed with pink nebulae is the only evidence of a rare galactic collision of NGC 922 that occurred millions of years ago.

Explore this awesome image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

NGC 922 used to be a spiral galaxy. But as you zoom across the image, the spiral arms look distorted and disrupted. Tell-tale signs of a galactic interaction are many from the large numbers of bright pink nebulae and blue stars to the spray of dim stars toward the top of the image. Ripples set up as the smaller galaxy passed through the gas and dust clouds of NGC 922 created new star formation. Ultraviolet radiation from these bright new stars cause hydrogen gas in the surrounding nebula to glow a characteristic pink. The tugs of gravity hurled thousands of stars outward.

Scientists believe that millions of years ago a small galaxy, known as 2MASXI J0224301-244443, plunged through the heart of NGC 922. Sometimes, if a small galaxy hits a larger galaxy just right, a circle is formed. But more often than not, galaxies are not aligned perfectly. When a galaxy smacks another off center, one side of the ring is brighter than the other. NGC 922 is a prime example of what astronomers call collisional ring galaxies.

As you explore the empty places of the image, look for faraway background galaxies. Several dim spiral galaxies dot the image both outside the galaxy and within the star-speckled interior.

NGC 922 is found about 330 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Fornax. Fornax, the Furnace, is a constellation we haven’t visited before. Introduced by sky mapper and French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1756, Fornax is relatively devoid of stars allowing astronomers to peer deep into the universe. Astronomers targeted Fornax for the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image.

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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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