Today in History – March 7, 1979 - Voyager 1 transmits first images of a ring system around Jupiter. Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977 and it passed Saturn in November 1980. A second spacecraft, the Voyager 2, was launched earlier on August 20, 1977. Later in 1979 improved images were provided by Voyager 2 after it went into the shadow of Jupiter and looked back toward the sun. The Voyager 2 images clearly revealed a system of three rings. One image captured a faint outer ring made up of fine, microscopic particles and was named the “gossamer ring”.
Voyager 1 continued a trajectory that took it out of the solar system, making it the most distant spacecraft from Earth and our Sun (as far as we know). It passed the termination shock, the place where the solar wind abruptly slows down, and traveled through a zone called the heliosheath where the Sun’s magnetic field and solar wind dominate the environment. Its boundary, called the heliopause, is where the interstellar wind takes over. Although Voyager 2, was launched earlier, the Voyager 1 reached the outer solar system and interstellar space earlier due to its trajectory design for outer space and gravity-assist from Jupiter. The Voyager crafts are estimated to have sufficient electrical power to operate their radio transmitters until at least after 2025 – over 48 years after launch.
Sharing Carl Sagan‘s belief that Earth is not the only planet with advanced technology, I find the “Golden Record “ one of the most interesting parts of the Voyager mission. This gold-plated copper “phonograph record” is a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials. Assembled by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, these sounds and images were “selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth“.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the Voyager 1 and space exploration. For related educational resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education Community site. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.
Also on this date in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patents the first telephone. For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the Alexander Graham Bell and telecommunications. Additional curricular materials can be found on the Electrical Engineering Education Community site.