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In 1977 when at college in Coventry I met a very nice fellow student and my world changed. In 1982 we got married. Since then on odd occasions she says I talk gibberish. She’s usually right. Another world changing event occurred in 1977. The launch of the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 that took advantage of a rare lining up of the outer planets. These craft delivered many surprises and amazing discoveries from their close encounters with the gas giants of the outer solar system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Between them they are the first missions… to discover multiple moons of the four outer planets; to image the rings of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune; to discover active volcanoes beyond Earth on Jupiter’s moon Io; detect lightning on a planet other than Earth at Jupiter; possible evidence of an ocean beyond Earth at Jupiter’s moon Europa; detect a nitrogen-rich atmosphere found beyond our home planet at Saturn’s moon Titan… and many other observations and data collection. Other than the incredible scientific discoveries Voyager 1 took the profound distant image of our Earth now known as The Pale Blue Dot. Both craft carried a gold plated 12 inch record that was aimed to be a message to any being who found it. Nasa says it was intended to “communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials”, with images, sounds, music and greetings intended to show what our planet is like.

On August 25, 2012 Voyager 1 crossed over into interstellar space, leaving behind the heliosphere – the enormous magnetic bubble encompassing our Sun, planets, and solar wind. Voyager 2 left the heliosphere on November 5, 2018. Together the Voyagers have taught us a great deal about the extent of our sun’s influence and the very nature of the space that lies beyond our planets. Mission update: Voyager 1 is travelling 10.5 miles per second and is now 162 AUs distant (1 AU= Earth to Sun distance), way past Pluto. It takes signals travelling at light speed 22.5 hours to get to us. Voyager 1 is still sending back useful information after 46 years…until last November.

The messages that it was sending back to Earth turned into gibberish. Voyager was sending a repeating, meaningless pattern as if it had become stuck. The problem related to one single chip which contained some of its computer’s software code that had broken. But Voyager is now the most distant human-made object ever made so a trip to The Repair Shop would be impossible. However, in April ingenious engineers rejigged the system and sent new code … the message came back and this time it made sense. Humanity’s most long-range software update on Voyager’s 46 years old computer was a success. The Voyagers are still invaluable distant messengers but they still won’t leave the huge region of icy objects that surround our Sun; the Oort Cloud for another 30,000 years!

Glynn Bennallick