Those two titans of interplanetary travel, Voyager I and Voyager II, are heading out of the Solar System, according to the BBC. Sort of. What the article fails to mention is that there isn’t really any well-defined “edge of the Solar System”. If we define the solar system as being only the planets, then the probes passed Pluto years ago. (And then Pluto was demoted from “planet” to “trans-Neptunian object” anyway.) On the other hand, if you include comets in the Solar System, some of those orbit thousands of times further out than Pluto does, and it will be millions of years before any space probe gets past them.
Nevertheless, this seems as good a time as any to give a shout-out to the two Voyager probes. Back in the 70’s and 80’s there beamed us some awesome images, particularly of the outer planets and their moons.
I remember being dazzled by these photos as a kid, and getting the impression that there were whole worlds of wonder to explore without even leaving the Solar System. I consider it a great tragedy that as my education progressed, the childish joy was slowly squeezed out of science, replaced by schmucks telling me that we can’t actually travel to other planets due to ambient radiation that pervades outer space and other such joyless things. True, obviously, but joyless. Nonetheless, we should still be thankful that we were able to get these amazing images from the Voyager probes.
Meanwhile, though most of us have long forgotten them, those two lonely machines continue their march through space. And it’s worth a moment’s thought to think that, if some alien race ever picks one of them up, our entire species may be judged based only on a single relic from the 1970’s. Will they assume that we were all a bunch of polyester-wearing, disco-listening weirdos?