Voyager's Merav Opher on Touching the Edge of Our Solar System

September 14, 2012

Friday afternoon is the perfect time to take a trip. And if you think it takes forever to get to Tanglewood on the Mass Pike or through Connecticut on 84, you’ve got nothing on Voyager 1.

The small spacecraft is probably about the size of your car and it’s been traveling for a long time. A. Long. Time: 35 years and 10 days to be exact. And after covering roughly 11 billion miles, it’s about to do something no manmade object has ever done: break through the confines of our solar system into a place called the interstellar matter.

Nobody is 100 percent sure when that will happen. But it will be soon. In fact, it could be happening right now as you read this. So how will we know when we are there? There are only a handful of people on the planet who can tell us that. One of them is Boston University assistant professor of astronomy Merav Opher, who joined us to talk about Carl Sagan, what it means to "touch" the outer edge of the solar system and what Ella Fitzgerald and Mozart are doing on board the spaceship.

Merav Opher, assistant professor of astronomy at Boston University, Voyager team scientist

It's worth noting that on board both Voyager spacecraft are copies of what NASA calls the "Golden Record." Each phonograph record (they are actually made of gold) contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them. On the back is an etching that includes instructions on how to play the record. Here is what renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, who was the man behind the Golden Record, had to say about it: "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."

Here are some highlights:

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