MAINE SKIES

34 years later, Voyager 1 and 2 continue to travel in space

Posted Aug. 28, 2011, at 6:13 p.m.
Image by William H. Lowry

A little more than 34 years have passed since Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in the fall of 1977. In that time, Voyager 1 has traveled 10.8 billion miles from the sun, while its counterpart has logged 8.8 billion miles. It takes a signal from Earth 16 hours and 13 hours respectively to travel to the two spacecrafts. Their travels have taken them to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune plus 49 moons throughout the solar system. NASA’s Deep Space Network still picks up signals from the spacecrafts even though Voyager 1 is now at the edge of our solar system and is about to enter the sun’s heliosphere, the outermost shell of the sun’s influence, and will enter interstellar space within the next five years. In case some traveler encounters one of the spacecrafts in their lonely odyssey, each carries a golden disk that contains 55 languages, musical selections, drawing of human beings and coordinates of the solar system and the Earth’s location within it.

Focus on the planets

Mercury appears low in the east as the month opens about an hour before dawn. It rises to its highest point about Sept. 8 and then drops toward the horizon and will disappear by the third week of the month.

Venus returns to the evening sky in September but will not be readily visible until the end of the month when it sets about an hour after the sun.

Mars rises in the east-northeast in the early morning hours as September opens. On Sept. 15 Mars forms a straight line with Castor and Pollux of Gemini and, on Sept. 30 may be seen on the edge of the Beehive Cluster.

Jupiter rises by 10:30 p.m. at the start of the month and by 8:30 p.m. at the end, affording good telescopic views of the giant planet around midnight.

Saturn lies in the west hard to spot in the evening twilight and disappears from view around mid-month.

Uranus in Pisces and Neptune in Aquarius will need the aid of telescopes and finder’s charts to spot their faint disks.

September events

1: Sunrise, 5:57 a.m.; sunset, 7:13 p.m. This is the peak night for the Alpha Aurigid meteor shower, a minor shower that sometimes features brief bursts of up to 30 per hour.

3: Antares, the bright star of Scorpius, is just to the left of the moon shortly after sunset looking south.

4: Moon in first quarter, 1:39 p.m.

9: Look for Mercury and Regulus less than a degree apart on the eastern horizon just before sunrise.

12: Full moon, 5:26 a.m. This being the nearest full moon to the autumnal equinox, the full moon of September is the harvest moon.

15: The moon is at apogee, or farthest distance from Earth, today. Jupiter is to the lower left of the Moon as they rise in the evening sky.

17: The sun enters Virgo on the ecliptic.

19: Aldebaran, the “red eye of the bull,” is close to the moon during the early morning hours.

20: Moon in last quarter, 9:39 a.m.

23: Mars is to the upper left of the moon a couple of hours before sunrise where it will look like a reddish-orange star. The sun crosses the celestial equator into the southern hemisphere at 5:06 a.m. marking the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere. The sun enters the astrological sign of Libra although, astronomically, it has just entered Virgo.

27: New moon, 7:08 a.m.

28: The moon is at perigee or closest approach to Earth which, combined with the recent new moon, could lead to abnormally high tides.

30: Sunrise, 6:31 a.m.; sunset, 6:18 p.m.

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