Where nothing made by man has gone before
It's Saturday, I'm sick of writing about Syria, and thought we all could do with a story that sent shivers down my spine when I read of it a couple of days ago.
The first man-made object in history has left the confines of our solar system and has entered the interstellar void. It took 36 years for Voyager I to get that far - a tribute to the engineers who designed the spacecraft and those who built it. Still running using the heat from a tiny bit of nuclear material, Voyager is also the fastest object ever built by man, traveling more than 38,000 MPH or 11 miles a second. It will still take 77,000 years to reach the nearest star - if it were going that way.
Thirty-six years ago, from the ground in Florida, Voyager 1 launched into space. It traveled out of Earth's atmosphere, and it kept going. It passed Jupiter in 1979 and then Saturn in 1980. And then it kept going.
In 1990, six billion miles from Earth, it looked back on the planets of our solar system, and photographed them all.
And today, in a historic announcement, NASA revealed that this piece of machinery, built by humans here on our planet, has officially sailed beyond the region of solar winds around our sun and into interstellar space.
The transition happened a year ago, around August 25, 2012, but scientists didn't realize it until recently, when they analyzed the vibrations made by an explosion on the sun in March of 2012, which arrived at the spacecraft in April 2013. As NASA explains, "The pitch of the oscillations helped scientists determine the density of the plasma. The particular oscillations meant the spacecraft was bathed in plasma more than 40 times denser than what they had encountered in the outer layer of the heliosphere. Density of this sort is to be expected in interstellar space."
Amazingly, it is likely that our first manned insterstellar flight - hundreds of years in the future if we live that long as a species - could conceivably catch Voyager before it barely started to traverse the void. By that time, the spacecraft would have fallen completely silent as its fuel supply is due to run out in about a decade.
It may be that in the future, Voyager's landmark achievement will be considered as important as anything man has accomplished so far in his quest to reach for the stars. For the present, it is enough we contemplate the incredible notion that we have broken our bond with the sun and are now traveling to a place where nothing man made has gone before.