NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft has been probing around the solar system for over 45 years. Now, the spacecraft is running out of power, but the Agency has a new plan to keep Voyager 2 running for at least three more years.
The Voyager 2 initially launched in 1977, and has been helping scientists view and investigate planets far from Earth, as well as learn about how the heliosphere protects the Earth from its volatile interstellar environment. The heliosphere is the sun’s outermost layer that traps particles and magnetic fields within it.
NASA engineers and scientists have begun turning off heaters and nonessential parts to preserve power in the Voyager 2, and now have a plan to use reserved power from a safety mechanism within the spacecraft’s voltage, according to reports from NPR.
“The move will enable the mission to postpone shutting down a science instrument until 2026, rather than this year,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
Both Voyager 2 and Voyager 1, which was launched the same year as its twin Voyager 2, are the only spacecraft to have explored past the heliosphere.
Ed Stone was the chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, who retired last year, has spent decades working on the Voyager program. He was able to see firsthand new data and discoveries from planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
“What it revealed was how complex and dynamic the solar system really is. Before Voyager, the only known active volcanoes were here on Earth. Then we flew by Jupiter’s moon, Io, and it has 10 times the volcanic activity of earth. Before Voyager, the only known oceans in the solar system were here on Earth.
Then we flew by another moon of Jupiter, Europa, which it turns out has a liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust,” Stone told NPR.
Voyager 2 is currently 12.3 billion miles away from Earth, and getting further, Voyager 1 is also expected to lose power in the coming years, and is currently 14.7 billion miles away.
“The science data that the Voyagers are returning gets more valuable the farther away from the Sun they go, so we are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operating as long as possible,” Linda Spilker, the Voyager program’s project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.