According to Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State, the sun’s brightness is expected to increase by 15 percent over the next 2 billion years, creating a runaway greenhouse effect that will produce surface temperatures on Earth in excess of 700 degrees.
Forget about global warming, this will be global incineration.
The only remnant of our wasted time in this world will still be hurtling across space in one of two Voyager spacecrafts.
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1. It has left our solar system and is now nearly 13 billion miles from Earth. Voyager 2 is out there too, just 10.6 billion miles from home, each forging its own path toward new worlds.
And neither has had to stop for gas.
The Voyager spacecrafts, which launched when I was in college, were conceived as a flyby of the outer planets in our solar system. Voyager used the planets’ gravity to slingshot from Jupiter to Saturn to Uranus and on to Neptune.
Both missions furthered our understanding of the planets and solar system and took some extraordinary photos. But the lasting legacy will be the golden record aboard each spaceship.
As the Voyager mission was developed, several scientists suggested that information be included that would describe our planet and our species, just in case.
Carl Sagan wrote this at the time:
“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”
The record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc, is a space-proof version of the vinyl I was playing in college when Voyager was launched. It contains sounds, music and images from Earth, a message of peace from President Carter as well as drawings of the human form. NASA passed on naked photographs for fear the controversy surrounding interstellar pornography might derail the mission.
It also invited alien civilizations to visit while providing a cosmic map of where to find us.
The beginning of the 1984 movie “Starman” shows Voyager whizzing through space to the sounds of Chuck Berry’s classic “Johnny B. Goode.” It was the only rock ‘n’ roll tune to make the cut on the golden record.
In “Starman,” Jeff Bridges plays an alien who has taken Voyager up on its offer to visit. What follows is the panicked efforts of government forces trying to capture the alien that are less than hospitable.
Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Academy Award and the movie should be required viewing for any extraterrestrial planning a trip.
In celebration of the anniversary, PBS aired “The Farthest,” a documentary that followed the two missions and interviewed the people instrumental in their success. You can hear the excitement in their voices all these years later, a reminder of the joy scientific discovery used to bring us as a people.
It was also a reminder of the vastness of outer space and the worlds we will never know.
While we face an uncertain future, the two spacecrafts continue their missions with the message there was once a civilized people in a world far away.
Voyagers’ futures appear much brighter than our own.