The first object constructed by humans is about to leave the solar system, and enter interstellar space.


The first object constructed by humans is about to leave the solar system, and enter interstellar space.
Voyager 1, which was launched in late 1977, has traveled nearly 11 billion miles already. Already, this little probe has furthered our knowledge of Jupiter and the Jovian Moons Io, Ganymede, Calisto and Europa. Later, it answered questions about Saturn and its largest moon Titan.
Now, this traveler, this embodiment of our hopes and dreams about our place in the universe, this manifest proof of our insatiable curiosity as a species, is about to leave our home’s home, and go into the great unknown.
Stop for a moment and consider this. Close your eyes and imagine this probe looking back at the solar system. Think of all it has seen in the past 33 years - things no naked human eye will gaze upon for decades, if not centuries, from now. Picture Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, Io’s volcanos, Europa’s vast fields of ice, Saturn’s rings and Titan’s clouds.
Then, if you can, imagine all that it will encounter in the years to come. It has no specific destination anymore, yet it is still moving “out there” at 38,000 miles an hour. In 40,000 years, long after you and I have faded into nothing, it will approach the constellation Camelopardalis, which is just barely visible in the northern sky. It will continue on and on into the unknown, until gravity snares it or, perhaps, some other intelligence discovers it.
Let us suppose for a moment that this happens - that our little probe somehow finds its way into the hands of E.T. - something even most astronomers find unlikely. What will they find? On Voyager is a golden record containing the sounds of this planet, from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto to Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. There’s chanting from Navajo tribes and greetings in 55 languages. There’s the universal language of mathematics, describing how to play the record.
Really, all of it is just a general message that we’re here, and we cared enough at one point to say “hi”. It’s out there, though - a lonely messenger of the human race, a letter without an address, a message in a bottle.
However, what it can tell us until its systems run out of power, sometime in 2025, pales in comparison to what it has already told us about ourselves. In 1990, Voyager 1 sent back a picture of Earth from nearly four million miles away. In it, our home is less than a pixel in size. The size of the planet gave the picture its name - the “Pale Blue Dot.”
Carl Sagan explained this photo better than I could.
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives,” Sagan said. “The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Venturing into the image’s deeper meaning, Sagan continued:
“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”
Finally, Sagan concluded:
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”
So, sometime in the night, if you care to, look up into the stars and consider the fact that this little ship is out there, and that we are able to send such a traveler so far. It has gone such a long way by itself, yet, in a way, we are with it, and will continue to be, even from this tiny blue speck in the black we call home.