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Voyager 2 leaves* the heliosphere

NASA have announced that Voyager 2 left the heliosphere on 5th November 2018 (*albeit the exact scope of the heliosphere is vague). A dramatic drop in solar particles leaves Voyager 2, the first of the Voyagers to launch, but the slower and hence second to leave our solar system, whizzing off into interstellar space at 34,000 mph with a stack of Plutonium on board, the next planet is some 40,000 years away. It is now around 11,000,000,000 miles from Earth.

Voyager 2 left Earth on 20th August 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, four days after Elvis died. Since then, probably over half the people on Earth have been born. France was yet to use the guillotine for the last time (well, pending further changes). Jimmy Carter was striving to be the worst US President in living memory. Concorde was yet to start scheduled services from London to New York. And the Queen was celebrating her Silver Jubilee.

In the world of popular music, ABBA were at their zenith. British Leyland were making Austin Allegros, David Owen was Jim Callaghan’s Foreign Secretary, planning no doubt for Ceausescu’s 1978 State Visit, when Madame Ceausescu was fêted by the Royal Institute of Chemistry. The accursed, groaning slave empire (h/t the late Auberon Waugh) we called the Soviet Union, was yet to invade Afghanistan, by then a ‘progressive’ republic, not yet wholly in Brezhnev’s warm embrace. And next door, the Shah still ruled in Iran. And the European Economic Community, having digested the UK, Ireland and Denmark, was working on welcoming recently democratic Greece by 1981 (Good call, that).

Coming back to the Voyagers, let’s pay tribute to the fantastic engineering of 1970s NASA in building a flying nuclear reactor so tough and durable that it can still run a probe some 41 years later, and the fantastic trajectories of the craft. Still sending back signals at 20 Watts, over 16 light hours away. A gallery of Voyager images is here.

The sheer scale of the Voyager journeys brings to mind the Total Perspective Vortex of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Perhaps, and I speculate wildly, the true purpose of the Voyager missions was to scour the Solar System for signs of something specific, and not found on Earth. They are both still searching, quixotically and heroically, and in the spirit of scientific enquiry, if not for signs of alien life, then perhaps for Theresa May’s integrity.

20 comments to Voyager 2 leaves* the heliosphere

  • stopped doomsday clock

    Indeed, time to celebrate hundreds of millions taken from tax payers by force.


    The total cost of the Voyager mission from May 1972 through the Neptune encounter (including launch vehicles, radioactive power source (RTGs), and DSN tracking support) is 865 million dollars. At first, this may sound very expensive, but the fantastic returns are a bargain when we place the costs in the proper perspective. It is important to realize that:

    on a per-capita basis, this is only 8 cents per U.S. resident per year, or roughly half the cost of one candy bar each year since project inception.

    Imagine you are eating a candy bar, ate half of it, and suddenly, jack booted government thugs burst in, take ther rest of the bar at gun point, throw it away into space, and then some “libertarians” come and start cheering the thugs.

  • Imagine you are eating a candy bar, ate half of it, and suddenly, jack booted government thugs burst in, take ther rest of the bar at gun point, throw it away into space, and then some “libertarians” come and start cheering the thugs.

    Oh noez, we failed a purity test. Damn you must be fun at parties.

  • David Graeme

    On Ceausescu’s state visit – I happened to pass Victoria Station just as his procession was pulling away (baffled and sullen crowds, absolutely hundreds of policemen – horse, foot and guns – traffic being held up for miles, it must have seemed like home to him) and a passer-by asked a street sweeper, “Hey, what’s going on here? Who’s that?” And the answer was, “Well, it’s the King of Rumania, innit?” Closer than he knew.

  • Mr Ed

    Imagine you are eating a candy bar, ate half of it, and suddenly, jack booted government thugs burst in, take ther rest of the bar at gun point, throw it away into space, and then some “libertarians” come and start cheering the thugs.

    I”ll have to imagine that as I am pretty sure it has never happened. It doesn’t work like that. The government spends money and either taxes people to pay for it or ‘borrows’ it. Fact is, if the Federal government hadn’t spent that money on Voyager, it wouldn’t have left it in private hands, it would have just gone on some other pork. ‘Infantile Rothbardism’ as this approach might be called, does tend not to reflect the real world. With my last candy bar, 1 penny in every 6 of the price was VAT 10p in 60p, and that’s the evident tax.

    I would agree that it would have been preferable had Voyager been privately funded, perhaps by crowd-funding, it wasn’t so easy in those days, and it’s out there. Hopefully, a future probe could be crowd-funded, why not start a project? And in terms of statism, the USSR has gone, and the EU is on the verge of retreating from the UK.

  • NickM

    Mr Ed,
    Your guillotine quip is 10/10.

  • Gene

    I think the name of the first commenter suggests the spirit in which the comment was intended …

  • George Atkisson

    I’m still rolling at the line concerning the search for May’s integrity. It’s certainly not on this planet. Perhaps it’s bonded with Unobtainium and is located somewhere around Alpha Centauri.

  • John B

    ‘’They are both still searching, quixotically and heroically, and in the spirit of scientific enquiry, if not for signs of alien life, then perhaps for Theresa May’s integrity.’

    Nice one 👍

  • Runcie Balspune

    throw it away into space

    Ah, but that would be the candy-powered “space program”, which lead to the Space Shuttle, which lead to Ronnie “Ray-gun” Reagan’s proposal to loophole the ABM missile treaty and deploy ABM launchers in orbit, which caused the Soviets to have a MAD breakdown, thereby rupturing their already fragile economy with additional military expenses, and leading to the eventual fall of communism (pending the Right Honorable Leader of the Opposition’s continued attempt to resurrect it) and the threat of global nuclear annihilation – hurray!

    Admittedly, putting the boot into the teetering Soviet collective probably could have been done a lot cheaper, but it was darn sure effective.

  • llamas

    @ David Graeme – I think we may have covered this here before, but chances are that, on that very day, I was located not a hundred paces from your person. I was working in Victoria Station that day, and recall the general kerfuffle very well – made my job quite-a-bit harder.

    On a completely-different topic, and a shameless thread-jack, but not quite sure how else to reach out to two such disparate persons at once, namely, our benevolent host Mr de Havilland and longtime commenter Mr Ed. I hope I may be forgived this impropriety. Llight the Llama-signall . . . . .

    I was at Shuttleworth a couple weeks ago, and they shared the very-good news that the only extant de Havilland DH 53, the ‘Humming Bird’, is being restored to flying condition after 6 years in ‘deep storage’.

    Perry – this is the work of your famous progenitor. Mr Ed – I think you have displayed in the past an interest in the vintage aircraft that competed in the Lympne Trials in 1923/1924, of which the two sole survivors, of which this is one, now both reside at Shuttleworth. I threw in my contribution to the effort to see this piece of history fly again. Perhaps you two might consider . . . . ?



  • Johnathan Pearce

    Even if the craft keeps going until the heat death of the universe, I fear Ipswich Town Football Club will remain mired in the lower leagues of British football.

    As for Mrs May’s integrity, I think the search for it is fruitless anyway. She may be a vicar’s daughter, but she hasn’t spent a lot of time absorbing the better parts of Anglicanism, such as they are.

  • Paul Marks

    A remarkable achievement – even if this Solar System is destroyed, then some evidence of the existence of our civilisation will still exist.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Jimmy Carter was striving to be the worst US President in living memory.

    Arguably quite false. The Carter Administration decontrolled fossil fuel prices (which were under price controls before then, with obvious results like gas lines), decontrolled the airline industry (whose prices and routes were before that fixed by government bureaucrats), decontrolled the trucking industry (which again had prices fixed by government fiat), and on and on. Carter also was one of the few Presidents in the last century to actually care whether US foreign policy furthered or hindered basic human rights.

    Carter also attempted to cut taxes (really), refused welfare “reform” policies proposed by his cabinet on the basis that they increased spending, and pushed for decriminalization of cannabis decades before it became popular.

    He was a staunchly opposed to the Soviet Union, too, which many people forget; his administration’s foreign policy was conducted by hard-line anticommunists like Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    Generally, Carter was far better than (to name some examples from the last 60 or so years, which is certainly living memory) Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump.

    The main problem during his administration was that the Federal Reserve continued to be run by inflationists. Arguably, this was the fault of Fed Chariman Arthur Burns, who was a Nixon appointee, although Carter appointed William Miller, also an inflationist. By the time Carter was convinced to appoint as Fed Chair Paul Volker, who ultimately stopped the problem, it was too late, and Volker served the bulk of his term under Reagan. Volker, not Reagan, was responsible for ending the inflationist policies of the past at the Fed, and again, was a Carter appointee, but he was not appointed until six months before the 1980 presidential campaign got under way.

    Carter is way underrated by libertarians. Reagan, of course, enacted several major important policy changes and tax reforms, but Carter began much of what Reagan is credited for doing, including privatization and decontrol.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “the EU is on the verge of retreating from the UK”

    What on earth gives you that impression?

  • Mr Ed

    Perry M,

    You are quite kind to Mr Carter, what with his forming 2 whole new government departments, the fall of the Shah, the fall of Nicaragua to the Communists, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, his plans to withdraw US forces from South Korea, recognising Red China over Taiwan. He did at least have the mindset that reducing taxes was objectively likely to improve things, unlike anyone bar his successor and the incumbent.

    Andrew D.

    ‘on the verge’ It could happen.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    You are quite kind to Mr Carter, what with his forming 2 whole new government departments

    Certainly a black mark for him, but I can name black marks for almost all Presidents

    the fall of the Shah, the fall of Nicaragua to the Communists, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

    Surely you jest. You can’t possibly blame Carter for any of those things, he wasn’t responsible for the acts of the Soviets or even those of the Iranian revolutionaries. His response to all those things was (in each case) quite reasonable. You might as well blame Eisenhower for what happened in Hungary and Johnson for the crushing of the Prague Spring.

    his plans to withdraw US forces from South Korea,

    The US has no business having troops in South Korea.

    recognising Red China over Taiwan

    That the process began under Nixon and Ford, not under Carter. That said, the US bowed to the inevitable, the Taiwanese cannot seriously claim to control the mainland. The US still, however, de facto recognized Taiwan, and continues to respect its passports and de facto have diplomatic relations with Taiwan to this day. De jure, the PRC is recognized as the government of the mainland. Trade continues with Taiwan, diplomatic contacts (though not “official” ones) continue, etc.

    BTW, less than 24 hours after I posted that comment about Carter the deregulator, Reason posted a video with much the same claim that I made, which is quite the fortuitous coincidence.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry, your irrepressible contrariness is highly amusing. As is your inabilty to comprehend what I posted about Carter. 😆

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M.

    President Carter created the Departments of Energy and Education. Think of the vast harm that Department of Education has done. Also the Civil Service was left open to the left under Carter – and they took full advantage of that (although they had been slipping in for quite some time before Carter).

    As for being anti Soviet – he spent years lecturing people about our “inordinate fear of Communism” and only changed his tune after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (and the change in tune was insincere – Carter did little or nothing to oppose the expansion of Marxism).

    Then there was the betrayal of American allies abroad – most importantly the Shah of Iran (although many other allies were also betrayed) – the Carter talk about “human rights” and “democracy” allowed vicious enemies of the United States take power in many countries. The fall of the Shah was an utter disaster in the Middle East – a disaster of vast magnitude – and it was directly due to President Carter.

    I am reminded of the arms embargo that President Truman was tricked into imposing on Chang in China, or that Ike was tricked into imposing on Batista in Cuba. “The dictator is a bad man” is no argument if the alternative is WORSE (and the alternative often is worse).

    However, I AGREE with you that President Carter was less bad than either President Johnson or President Nixon – both of whom were utterly awful.

    As for President Trump – he has not “tried” to cut taxes, he has actually cut them. And he has deregulated – but he has FAILED on government spending.

  • Paul Marks

    I have just read you “surely you jest” comment Perry M.

    No one is jesting – if you do not know that it was President Carter’s actions that led to the victory of the Marxists in Nicaragua and the Islamists in Iran, then your level of knowledge is low.

  • Nico

    If Trump succeeds at balancing trade, he’ll also succeed at cutting the Federal budget, almost of necessity. The two deficits, trade and budget, are very closely linked, and are practically mutually self-causing.

    International trade must add up to zero. The U.S. imports more from the rest of the world than it exports to the rest of the world. Much of the rest of the world’s surplus exports to the U.S. is from countries where exporters must repratriate their profits and convert to local currencies, which leaves their central banks flush with dollars, which they then trade for treasury notes (they wouldn’t be allowed to buy much else denominated in dollars in such quantities). Exporters not forced to repatriate would consider purchasing other dollar-denominated assets, but central banks really like the convenience and low risk (ignoring inflation) of treasuries. That means enormous demand for treasuries that wouldn’t issue without deficit spending — Congress is happy to oblige!

    Conversely, Congress finds cheap credit from mercantilist nations, thus not affecting domestic interest rates by its deficit spending. Convenient! So Congress always finds ways to spend more.

    If Congress spends more, the mercantilists will export more to the U.S. But if the mercantilists want to export more, then Congress will be very tempted to create the additional deficit spending needed.

    How does one change this state of affairs? I suppose if we wait long enough it will correct itself naturally (probably involving various crises). Balancing trade by removing barriers to U.S. exports would help, but the macroeconomics of the current situation may be one of those barriers. Cutting the federal budget deficit would help, but no one in Congress wants to, probably not even the President (at least not publicly). Balancing trade may be the best approach short of waiting for more natural rebalancing. The President sure seems to be trying to rebalance trade — not sure if he really is, and not sure if he’ll succeed if he really is trying.

    If trade gets rebalanced significantly then all that trade deficit erased will lead to equal amounts of federal budget deficit spending having to be financed domestically, which would put pressure on interest rates, which would cause a federal debt financing crisis (or inflation, if the Federal Reserve monetizes it for long) very quickly if that spending were not cut, so the spending would have to be cut (and/or some serious inflation would result that might help reduce some of transfer payment burdens at first).

    So I think the jury must be out for a while yet as to Trump and spending.