Voyager

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In August 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 probe became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space – the vast area that lies between the many star systems in our Galaxy. Once thought to be empty, it now seems the interstellar medium could be the key to understanding dark matter, the birth of stars and the origin of life. In the August issue of BBC Focus magazine we celebrate 40 years since the two Voyager craft set off on their quest to explore the outer Solar System.

Also in this issue:

  • Impressive events and activities to activate your wanderlust…
  • The new project mapping the molecular signature of some 30 trillion cells in our body
  • Could out-of-body experiences be the key to unlocking the mysteries of consciousness?

The twin spacecraft Voyager mission lifted off in the autumn of 1977, with the Voyager 1 probe launching on 5 September and Voyager 2 on 20 August. The Voyager mission was essentially invented by two NASA interns; Michael Minovitch, who in 1962 figured out how to surf the gravitational pull of the planets to swing spacecraft across the Solar System without a drop of propellant, and Gary Flandro, who noticed that the planets were going to align into a trajectory Minovitch had plotted. In 1990 Voyager 1 took the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph, the most distant image of the Earth and inspiration for Carl Sagan, and both Voyager probes carry a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc called the Golden Record, filled with images, audio and diagrams of life in 1977 - a message for any extra terrestrials that might encounter the crafts. To this day Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still flying through space beyond our Solar System, helping us understand the formation of stars and galaxies, dark matter, and the origins of life.

Where are all the active spacecraft in our Solar System?

Since Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957, humans have sent thousands of spacecraft into the cosmos. There are currently around 50 active craft in our Solar System (not including miniaturised, amateur or commercial craft). Here’s where they are and what research they are doing.

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