The year 1977 is perhaps best remembered for a televised incident in September, when “a tube top-clad woman named Yolanda Bowsley is called into Contestant’s Row on ‘The Price is Right,’ and while running down her breasts pop out of her shirt.” But also that month, Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral.
The awkward-looking collection of antennas, science instruments and a nuclear power supply has been zooming through space on its grand tour of the solar system for 35 years now. Its sister craft, Voyager 2, was launched two months earlier but took a slightly longer route on its way toward interstellar space. The Voyager missions are now as old as Saturday Night Fever and “Margaritaville” and the capture of David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam.
In San Francisco yesterday, scientists and officials from NASA announced that Voyager 1 has left the known part of the solar system and now travels across a newly discovered “magnetic highway” at the very edge of the heliosphere. Here, interstellar particles mix with decreasing solar particles, 11 billion miles from Earth.
Scientists don’t know how long it will take for the probe to cross the so-called “magnetic highway,” but they believe it is the last layer of a complex boundary between the region of space under the sun’s influence and interstellar space.
Three weeks before Voyager 1’s launch, scientists with the SETI program at Ohio State University recorded the now famous “WOW! signal,” a 72-second radio signal “of potential non-terrestrial and non-Solar System origin.”
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 each carry a record player and golden discs filled with earth music and sounds: Chuck Berry, Bach, Navajo chants, Stravinsky, a “Pygmy girls’ initiation song,” and nothing at all from the punk rock canon of 1976. The craft also carry analog images of people and buildings, nature and animals and insects. Carl Sagan supervised the production of these multimedia presentations, in hopes that whatever distant civilization found a Voyager probe would get a good (and not too dishonest) impression of the beings on Earth.