Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Voyager I Joins Voyager II

The following owes much to Varifrank's article/essay Where were you on August 20, 1977 posted 23 May 2006.

Varifrank wrote, "Since August 20, 1977, the fastest craft ever launched from earth, The Voyager II Spacecraft has been flying outward away from earth and into the great unknown. Every single day since then, that little piece of metal and machinery has been rocketing towards the edge of the Solar System. Voyager II will finally reach the edge of our solar system this year."

Almost 29 years had elapsed since the launch of Voyager II from Cape Canaveral and it was preparing to leave our little solar system. Twenty-nine (!) years!

I was able to answer the question in Varifarnk's title, "Where were you on August 20, 1977?" You see I knew exactly where I was.

I was inside ARIA, tail number 329 at about 31,000' and feeling great relief when we heard Voyager II finally launched. Soon afterward as the antenna operator I got to track Voyager II from AOS (acquisition of signal) horizon to horizon until I handed off to a sister ARIA. And then we were part of history.

Prior to the launch, we had to sit and wait in Perth when the launch of Voyager I was canceled and Voyager II went through an accelerated preparation for launch.
Every other day we flew about 5 hours boring holes in the sky and confirming our equipment was up and ready for the launch.

So, yes, I knew where I was then.

Today Voyager I leaves our little solar system as well, joining Voyager II on its extra solar system explorations. Way to go II!

In my original reply to Varifarnk's post I added comments about how large and empty space is using our solar system as an example. It went something like this.

Space is empty. Really, really empty...

Almost everyone is unaware of just how empty space is. They are used to the elementary through high school displays of our solar system that makes it seem almost crowded.

There are a number of websites that help illustrate how empty the solar system is by building a solar system when starting with something of size most of us are familiar with to replace the sun. Then the surprises come.

I chose, at Build A Solar System, to make our sun 10 inches in diameter (roughly the size of a basketball), that then makes the earth is approximately 9/100ths of an inch in diameter and 89 feet away.

In between the earth and the sun (our basketball) are Mercury (3.5/100ths inch diameter and 34 feet away) and Venus - my favorite morning star - (8.7/100ths inch diameter and 64 feet away).

So picture it this way: Set a basketball on the goal line of a football field then 11 yards out place the roller-ball from a medium ink pen (0.7mm) followed by an 8.5 shot size pellet 21 yards out followed by an 8.0 shot size pellet (our very own earth) at just under 30 yards out!

Of course you would have the largest planet, Jupiter, 1 inch in diameter 155 yards out - 1.5 football fields. Then you have Pluto on the outer edge of our solar system (almost the size of a BB here) 1,280 (!) football fields out from the original goal line.

So what inhabits our hypothetical solar system that is 2,380 football fields in diameter?

SUN - Basketball - size/10" - center
Mercury - med ballpoint - size/0.035" - 34' to center/sun
Venus - 8.5 pellet shot - size/0.87" - 64' to center/sun
Earth - 8.0 pellet shot - size/0.92" - 89' to center/sun
Mars - med ballpoint - size/0.049" - 136' to center/sun
Jupiter - spinning quarter - size/1.00" - 465' to center/sun
Saturn - spinning U.S. nickel - size/0.84" - 854' to center/sun
Uranus - cooked green pea - size/0.034" - 1,718' to center/sun
Neptune - cooked green pea - size/0.033" - 2,694' to center/sun
Pluto - BB pellet - size/0.016" - 3,540' to center/sun

So if we think of our solar system not as the disc we usually consider, but a sphere we have a sphere 1.33 miles across with a basketball at the center, two medium ballpoint pen balls, two peas, 3 pellets of varying size, a spinning quarter, and a spinning nickel.

Two words describe the sphere of our solar system: Almost empty.

RileyD, nwJ
"Only the humble are sane."

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