Monday, January 26, 2015
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

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    News

    Ranalli picks Pratt as planning commissioner

    By Chris Daley | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    New ruling gives hope to dredgers

    By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    From war to parades: Vet owns ambulance he drove in Vietnam

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Heard over the back fence: Car info for women

    By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

     
    Suspect in stolen car arrested in EDH

    By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A1

     
    Major injury after car hits trees

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A3

    Huntsman’s trial conference set for March

    By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Opinion

    Lions Hall progresses

    By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

     
    Belltower: New York impressions

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    The balancing act: Sinking the ship of state

    By Larry Weitzman | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Letters

    Is the bag half empy or half full?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    Ideology vs. truth

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

    Solving two important problems

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    Representatives of and for America

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

    Letter on militarized police

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    Moral relativity

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

    .

    Sports

    Trojans hold off Granite Bay

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Schedule: Jan. 26-31, 2015

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

    South 1 sets up opener

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

     
    Under the Scoreboard: Jan. 25, 2015

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

    Bist leads Bruins over Tigers

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

     
    Union Mine accelerates to win

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A6

    Dirty Five-Thirty Duals a grinder

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    Oak Ridge crashes its way to victory

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Roundup: Jan. 23, 2015

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A7

     
    Golden Sierra in 1st place tie

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A7

    .

    Prospecting

    Foothill gourmet: Super subs

    By Donna Brown | From Page: B2

     
    Positive things happen at West Slope Recovery

    By Pat Lakey | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    As we were: Chamber news

    By Ken Deibert | From Page: B2

     
    Imagination Theater audition workshop

    By Imagination Theater | From Page: B4

    Food bank’s mobile food pantry to distribute food

    By Food Bank Of El Dorado County | From Page: B4

     
    Bipolar Insights: New year resolution

    By Marcia Rose | From Page: B4

    My Time support group meeting on Feb. 6

    By Senior Day | From Page: B5

     
    Rescue district registration information

    By Rescue Union | From Page: B5

    .

    Essentials

    .

    Obituaries

    Major Charles Adam Gorman

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Janet Ruth Marcum Faw Atkins

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    Lola May Schroth

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Jeffrey Trevor Jilbert

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    .

    Real Estate

    .

    Comics