Happy (Late) Birthday, Voyager

A message to humanity’s farthest-flung artifact.

Voyager 1, still outbound. (Artwork: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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The greeting will arrive a day late, but it’s heartfelt all the same.

At 1:20 pm U.S. Eastern time today—the 40th anniversary of the spacecraft’s launch from Florida—controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory beamed a message to Voyager 1 using a 70-meter dish telescope in Spain. Some 40,000 people had proposed to NASA what the message should say. The winner, suggested by British Trekkie Oliver Jenkins and read with due awards-ceremony suspense by none other than Captain Kirk himself, was “We offer friendship across the stars. You are not alone.”

The signal will take more than 19 hours to reach the spacecraft, which is 13 billion miles away and speeding out of the solar system at 38,000 mph.

This isn’t the first time a message has been sent to interstellar space. In fact, such broadcasts have become popular, despite warnings (like this one in 2015) that it might not be such a great idea to alert possible hostile aliens to our presence. As for Voyager itself, the spacecraft and its celebrated Golden Record with photos and sounds of Earth won’t come within two light years of another star (Gliese 445) for another 40,000 years.

PIA17461_Heading_toward_Gliese_445_(annotated).jpg
Gliese 445, you can expect a visitor in about 400 centuries. (Caltech/Palomar)
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