Why Is The Aging Voyager 1 Probe Sending Back Incoherent Communications?

It's been speaking gibberish for a few months and officials are concerned. Why Is The Aging Voyager 1 Probe Sending Back Incoherent Communications? NASA/JPL-Caltech

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It’s been nearly 50 years since Voyager 1 took off from Florida on a groundbreaking mission to explore far-away planets. Although it was only designed to send back data about Jupiter and Saturn over the course of about four years, its journey has now taken it about 15 billion miles — near the outer limits of the solar system.

“The most surprised person in the world”

NASA’s Stamatios Krimigis was in charge of the instrumentation aboard Voyager 1 and said he’s shocked that it has continued to travel in such a predictable manner for so long.

He said goodbye to the revolutionary probe in 1977, but has continued to hear from it much longer than anyone initially thought possible.

Reflecting on the monumental achievement, Krimigis concluded: “I am the most surprised person in the world.”

But that uninterrupted stream of information — sent from Voyager 1 in binary code — appears to have come to an end.

“Frankly, I’m very worried”

Instead of receiving rational messages, interpreters here on Earth have been getting a garbled mess from the probe recently.

The trouble started about four months ago, explained NASA project manager Suzanne Dodd.

“It basically stopped talking to us in a coherent manner,” she said. “It’s a serious problem.”

Krimigis, who perhaps knows more about Voyager 1’s “personality” than anyone, shared his reaction: “Frankly, I’m very worried.”

Considering the fact that the tech powering the probe is ancient compared to modern capabilities, it can be difficult to determine what the problem is … but Dodd and her team are doing their best.

They’re trying out increasingly daring commands, not knowing whether the next one will be effective or detrimental.

But even if all is lost, Dodd said it’s “remarkable” that Voyager 1 has remained communicative this long.

Chris Agee
Chris Agee March 7th, 2024
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