Image Source: NASA.NASA reported on 15 June 2012 that Voyager 1 is moving into the borders of interstellar space, beyond the outer rim of the Heliosphere. The spacecraft is about 18 billion kilometres from earth. This is the furthest distance our reach has ever extended, outside the range of our sun's influence, a great milestone in human history. Amid all the doom and gloom of 2012's headlines, this one report should show that 2012 marks the beginning of humanity's adolescence, the start of a new era. See NASA's video below the jump (Hat tip: Spaceports).
It has taken the spacecraft 35 years to reach this point. The Voyager missions grew out of a Planetary Grand Tour proposed by JPL's Gary Flandro in the 1960s, who intended to use the fortunate and rare alignment of outer planets to enable their serial exploration and gravity assists for the spacecraft involved. NASA's other interstellar mission saw the Pioneer probes launched in 1972 and 1973. Communication was lost with Pioneer 10 in 2003 and with Pioneer 11 in 1995.
Where are they going? Wiki: "Whereas Pioneer 10 is moving away from the center of the galaxy, Pioneer 11 is moving towards it." Pioneer 10 is traveling toward the constellation of Taurus the Bull, and will take over 2 million years to arrive. Pioneer 11 is aimed at the constellation of Aquila the Eagle, and will take 4 million years to arrive. NASA: "Voyager 1 will leave the solar system aiming toward the constellation Ophiuchus. In the year 40,272 AD, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) called AC+79 3888. ... In about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda." For a map of the four spacecrafts' trajectories, go here. Both Voyager spacecraft are still sending back transmissions to earth, and will do so until they run out of power in 2025. Their RCA CD 4000 computer chips are made of silicon embedded on wafers made out of sapphire. For my earlier post on messages on the Voyager crafts to alien civilizations, go here. You can hear contents of the Voyager crafts' golden records, with the sights and sounds of our planet, on Youtube starting here. One Youtuber says: "Long after the sun exhausts its energy and swallows up the Earth, this record will still be out there."