Pop quiz: The Voyager spacecraft was launched in 1977. In the ensuing 34 years it’s traveled how far:
- about 10 light years;
- about 1 light year;
- about 1 light month; or
- about 12 light hours.
Answer: via Maggie Koerth-Baker on Boing Boing:
I recently found out that, in 2050, when I am 69 years old, the Voyager 1 space craft will finally reach a distance of one single light-day away from the Earth. Light will reach that point in 24 hours. A man-made jumble of electronics will have taken 73 years. At that rate, it’ll be more than 26,000 years before Voyager has traveled a light-year away from us. The nearest star is more than 4 light-years away. (And also in the wrong direction.) These facts were making me feel a little overwhelmed and strangely sad. Reader David Radune on Google+ captured those feelings perfectly, in one sentence,”I don’t think we’re ever getting off this rock.”
I like life here on our rock. The impossibility of bolting is reason to take better care of it, a point Voyager helped make in 1990, when it transmitted the photograph Pale Blue Dot on its way out of the Solar System. The goodbye photograph was long planned by NASA, at the urging of astronomer, Carl Sagan, who later commented:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Earth takes up less than a single pixel of the photograph, according to NASA. You can just make it out about half-way down on the right-most sunbeam. The bottom photo on this Wikipedia page shows it circled.