Saturday, December 3, 2011

Distance 119+ AU

Curiosity Rover Launch
A discussion of SF and Fantasy is pending here, but in the meanwhile, a little weekend science news.

According to the Voyager website at NASA, Voyager 1 is currently nearly 120 AU from Earth - 119.862 AU, to throw in a few extra decimal places. (Follow the link to see a real-time distance updating.) Its distance from the Sun is just over 119 AU, a more relevant measure - the distance from Earth will actually shrink during by next (northern hemisphere) summer, when Earth swings around to the same side of the Sun as Voyager.

Voyager 2 is a slightly more modest 97 AU from the Sun. Pioneer 10, which lost contact with Earth a few years ago, is at a similar distance.

We grump about human spaceflight a lot around here, but stop to think about the fact that a human-built spacecraft is now nearly 120 AU from the Sun - still in operating condition, still investigating the heavens.

Meanwhile the Mars Science Laboratory mission, including the rover Curiosity, is on its way to Mars. The image above, from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), shows its launch.

Not on its way to the inner moon of Mars, sad to say, is Phobos-Grunt, which fell out of contact on entering Earth parking orbit. Mars has a remarkable history of eating space missions. According to Wikipedia, Russian engineers still have some faint hope of establishing contact and perhaps even sending the spacecraft to a near-Earth asteroid. Otherwise, RIP.

In spite of setbacks, the exploration of the Solar System (and its environs) continues.


Thucydides said...

Voyager one took a picture of the Earth Moon system in 1990, and even then was so far away that Earth took up less than a single pixel on the image...Imagine what Voyager could see today.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we are still expanding our reach and vision, just not like most of us thought back in the early '70s.


Jean-Remy said...

And another Mars mission (fails to) eats the (Martian (moon)) dust.

Looks like no one is batting well against the God of War. Dasvidanye, tavaritch.

Jim Baerg said...

Well unlike Phobos-Grunt the Curiosity rover is at least on the way to Mars. Whether it will survive landing on Mars is another matter.

jollyreaper said...

I will be impressed if Curiosity's landing system works. Seems very complicated and risky.

Tony said...


"I will be impressed if Curiosity's landing system works. Seems very complicated and risky."

It's probably a necessary risk, however. Curiosity is too large for an airbag landing. Also, the crane deployment from the landing system avoids the weight of landing gear and the complication of a ramp to get down off the landing platform. Those can go wrong too, y'know.

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