To Boldly Go...

Voyager 1

Speculations by Stefan Stenudd

The space probe Voyager 1 has traveled since 1977, soon reaching the end of our solar system and entering outer space. That's not a void, but a constant storm of cosmic rays, from which the sun's magnetic field protects us. Whatever it really is, space is not empty.

Sunday Brunch with the World Maker. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Sunday Brunch with the World Maker
Novel by Stefan Stenudd
A Sunday brunch conversation with a stranger slips into the mysterious, soon to burst beyond the realm of possibility. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).

       NASA reports that Voyager 1 is reaching the end of our solar system. This is indicated by a dramatic increase in cosmic rays hitting the probe. The last month has seen a 9% increase, whereof the last week counts for 5%. It's shown by the figure below.

Cosmic rays hitting Voyager 1.

       We tend to regard outer space as utterly empty, except for those billions of galaxies, visible to us as little white dots in the pitch black vastness. But ever since the Big Bang, space is more like a battlefield, where tremendous powers interact with spectacular consequences on an unrivaled grand scale. Space is neither empty nor still, but quite the opposite.

       Actually, it would be more correct to describe our solar system as a peaceful little haven by a stormy sea. When Voyager 1 leaves this haven, the magnitude of that storm will be evident. The NASA illustration below gives a colorful glimpse of what's to be expected. And Voyager 2 is soon to follow.

Voyager 1 bow shock map.

       Considering the insignificance of our solar system in this great tremble, it might be even more accurate to describe it as a soap bubble thrown this way and that in the wind, before popping.

Soap bubble.

       The first Star Trek movie, released a couple of years after Voyager 1 took off, plays on the idea of what might happen to such a probe in deep space. Whether that's a good guess or not, one can but marvel at the implications of what is about to take place.

V'ger of the first Star Trek movie.
V'ger of the first Star Trek movie.

       For thousands of years, mankind has regarded itself and its habitat as the center of the universe – well, the whole of the universe. It's just during the last few centuries that we've realized how great the universe is, and how peripheral we are in it. The perspectives are truly mind blowing. We're yet to take it all in.

       We tend to smile at the misconceptions of past generations, but I'm convinced that we're not that much closer to the truth. We've observed a lot of manifestations of the universe and its components, we've even gotten far in describing it all mathematically – but we're yet to find how it all matches up. The big jigsaw puzzle of science is yet to reveal the picture. It will look quite different from what we assumed.

       In spite of all that science, I still believe that it's through our imagination that we can come the closest to an understanding of the universe. Maybe our imagination and the way it works is a mimesis of sorts of what processes really lie behind the existence and dynamics of the cosmos and everything in it.

       So, Voyager's voyage may be one from the world as we believe to know it, into one that changes it utterly and completely. So far, we've moved from a geocentric to a heliocentric perspective. That's still just a corner of a corner of a corner. Time to get cosmocentric.

       Whatever that is, it's worth another movie.

Stefan Stenudd
June 24, 2012

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Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd

About me
I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.