Monday, October 20, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Space exploration in one lifetime

By
October 17, 2013 |

In 1957, several years before I was born, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik — the first man-made object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. That simple little satellite captured people’s imagination around the world. We Americans were alarmed that the Soviets had “beat us” to space. Sputnik therefore helped spur both the U.S. space effort and such things as better education for our kids in math and science.
It didn’t take long for us to catch up to the accomplishments of the Soviets. When I was a baby in the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy famously said we should put a man on the moon within the decade. I was in grade school when we met that deadline, landing men on the moon in the summer of 1969. I remember the event, which was televised live.
My family gathered around the TV to listen to Walter Cronkite announce the events of the lunar landing. My father took pictures of the television screen with his 35 mm camera. He deemed the event that important. For the first time in the history of the world, we had put spacecraft and people on the moon, exploring places which had been seen from Earth but never before been visited.
When I was in high school in 1977, a much longer term exploratory effort was launched. Two unmanned space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, lifted off from Earth in quick succession. The idea behind the Voyager probes was to fly past planets in the middle and outer solar system and keep going into interstellar space.
In case the Voyager probes were ever intercepted by intelligent life outside our solar system, they carried images and recordings which tried to convey the essence of human civilization — at least as we thought of it in the 1970s. It was our effort to communicate with “E.T.,” potentially even millennia after the probes left us.
When I was in college, Voyager 1 did a fly-by of Jupiter and then Saturn. In addition to images of these large, gaseous planets, the probe sent back pictures of their moons. The transmissions fired people’s imagination like Sputnik had done a generation before.
When I was finishing up my doctorate in geology, Voyager 1 responded to orders transmitted to it by NASA and turned to look back at Earth. The image the probe made was transmitted to us and we saw our planet as a “pale blue dot” hanging in the darkness of space. On that one little speck we all live — a sobering reminder that our Earth may be large compared to the dimensions of familiar objects like streets and houses, but it is tiny compared to the vastness of the solar system.
For quite some time after that image was made in 1990, Voyager 1 continued zooming away from us and from the sun, traveling at about 38,000 mph. Zipping along at that rate it traveled farther and farther toward the edge of our solar system. Eventually it moved beyond the orbit of Uranus, Neptune and finally Pluto. During that time I went from being a woman in her prime to one with arthritis in both her knees. Now, 36 years after it was launched, Voyager 1 has traveled almost 12 billion miles and reached another milestone of space exploration, leaving behind our solar system and moving into interstellar space.
“Voyager has gone a long way,” Michael Allen said to me. Allen is a faculty member in Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University. “Light travels enormously quickly, but it takes more than 17 hours for light from where we are on Earth to travel out to where Voyager 1 is now.”
Using a special telescope, we have recently detected the faint radio signal coming from Voyager 1. That amazes me because Voyager’s transmitter is a tiny 22 watts. From what I’ve read, that’s about the strength of a radio transmitter in a cop car.
It’s taken most of a lifetime for human space efforts to go from launching a satellite that was the first object to leave Earth’s atmosphere to getting a probe into interstellar space. But we’ve now done what few could imagine before I was born.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

Subscription Required

Thank you for reading the MtDemocrat.com digital edition. In order to continue reading this story please choose one of the following options.

Current Subscribers
If you are a current subscriber and wish to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com, please select the Subscriber Verification option below. If you already have a login, please select "Login" at the lower right corner of this box.

Subscriber Verification

Special Introductory Offer
For a short time we will be offering a discount to those who call us in order to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your print subscription. Our customer support team will be standing by Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm to assist you.

Call and Save! (530) 344-5000

If you are not a current subscriber and wish not to take advantage of our special introductory offer, please select the $12 monthly option below to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your online subscription

Help?

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

King Fire salvage operations continue

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

 
Camino manhunt ongoing

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Psychiatrist: Winkler has disorders

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Motorcycle fatal on Omo Ranch Road

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

 
McClintock fired up over fire and water

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Planning Commission halts Town Center apartments

By Julie Samrick | From Page: A3

 
Officials warn of jury duty warrant scam

By News Release | From Page: A3

.

Opinion

The balancing act: Figuring out the ballot

By Larry Weitzman | From Page: A4

 
Belltower: Oakland Aviation Museum

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A4

No to Prop. 45

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

 
.

Letters

A double-edged opportunity for Cameron Park

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Kirk Smith for City Council

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Measure K

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Measure K goes too far

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Vote Penn for smart economic development

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
Disappearing signs

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

A bully

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

 
.

Sports

Roundup: Oct 17, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Union Mine jumps back in the saddle

By Scott Warden | From Page: A6

Cougar boys keep it rolling

By Mark Devaughn | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Golden Sierra runs out of time

By Cody Holliday | From Page: A6

Volleyball: El Dorado sweeps Griz

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6

 
Schedule: Oct. 20-25, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Oak Ridge drops third straight; playoffs in peril

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

Bruins’ 4th quarter lead slips way

By Mike Bush | From Page: A7

 
.

Prospecting

Dedication unites two kindred spirits

By Pat Lakey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
New CD celebrates a life in Placerville

By Mike Roberts | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Juvenile Service Council is holding a golf tourney

By Juvenile Service Council | From Page: B2

 
As we were: All shook up

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B2

Food bank to hold hunger walk

By Food Bank Of El Dorado County | From Page: B3

 
High school district delivers 21st century classrooms

By El Dorado Union High School District | From Page: B3

Old Sac continues Day of the Dead celebration

By Old Sacramento | From Page: B4

 
Fantasy glides on the ice

By Disney On Ice | From Page: B10 | Gallery

 
.

Essentials

Crime Log: Oct. 7-11

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
Correction

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

Building permits 10/6-10/2014

By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

.

Real Estate

.

Comics