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Voyager 1 spacecraft has despatched a (partly) decipherable message


Voyager 1 spacecraft with receiving dish against star clouds.
Artist’s idea exhibits Voyager 1 towards a starry background. The spacecraft, launched in 1977, is not in our photo voltaic system. However it nonetheless communicates with Earth, and in November 2023 it began sending again gibberish. Now NASA engineers says they’ve been in a position to decipher a brand new message that Voyager 1 despatched in March. Picture by way of Caltech/ NASA-JPL.
  • NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft launched from Earth in 1977. It handed out of the heliosphere – or sphere of our solar’s affect – in 2012. In all that point, Voyager 1 has been speaking with Earth.
  • However since November 2023 – although nonetheless sending radio indicators again to Earth – Voyager 1 has been sending again solely gibberish.
  • Some hope appeared in early March 2024, nevertheless, after NASA engineers tried a particular command, known as a “poke” by the group. Following the “poke,” the group was in a position to decipher a message from the spacecraft, though with issue.

NASA revealed this authentic article on March 13, 2024. Edits by EarthSky.

Voyager 1 is beginning to make some sense

Since November 2023, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has been sending a gentle radio sign to Earth, however the sign doesn’t include usable knowledge. The supply of the difficulty seems to be with one among three onboard computer systems – the flight knowledge subsystem, or FDS – which is liable for packaging the science and engineering knowledge earlier than it’s despatched to Earth by the telemetry modulation unit (a knowledge encoder).

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On March 3, the Voyager mission group noticed exercise from one part of the FDS that differed from the remainder of the pc’s unreadable knowledge stream. The brand new sign was nonetheless not within the format utilized by Voyager 1 when the FDS is working correctly, so the group wasn’t initially positive what to make of it. However an engineer with the company’s Deep House Community, which operates the radio antennas that talk with each Voyagers and different spacecraft touring to the moon and past, was in a position to decode the brand new sign and located that it accommodates a readout of the whole FDS reminiscence.

The FDS reminiscence contains its code, or directions for what to do, in addition to variables, or values used within the code that may change based mostly on instructions or the spacecraft’s standing. It additionally accommodates science or engineering knowledge for downlink. The group will examine this readout to the one which got here down earlier than the difficulty arose and search for discrepancies within the code and the variables to probably discover the supply of the continuing difficulty.

This new sign resulted from a command despatched to Voyager 1 on March 1. Known as a “poke” by the group, the command is supposed to softly immediate the FDS to attempt totally different sequences in its software program bundle in case the difficulty could possibly be resolved by going round a corrupted part.

2-way communication takes a very long time

As a result of Voyager 1 is greater than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth, it takes 22.5 hours for a radio sign to succeed in the spacecraft. After which it’s one other 22.5 hours for the probe’s response to succeed in antennas on the bottom. So the group acquired the outcomes of the command on March 3. On March 7, engineers started working to decode the info. Lastly, on March 10, they decided that it accommodates a reminiscence readout.

The group is analyzing the readout. Utilizing that info to plan a possible answer and try and put it into motion will take time.

Backside line: The Voyager 1 spacecraft – which launched in 1977 and has now traveled out of our photo voltaic system – began sending gibberish again to Earth in November. Now engineers have despatched it a “poke” and acquired a message they’ve been in a position to decipher.

Through NASA

Learn extra: Why are the Voyager spacecraft getting nearer to Earth?

Learn extra: SETI finds signal of intelligence, and it’s our personal Voyager 1

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