Nonsensical signals from the Voyager 1 probe – Space and astronomy –


NASA’s Voyager 1 probe, the farthest object from Earth ever built by man, has literally gone crazy: it’s sending out gibberish signals, repeating mixtures of 0s and 1s, two digits commonly used in computer science to encode data. NASA scientists are trying to solve the malfunction, but it is not an easy task: the probe is 24 billion kilometers away, and messages take about 22.5 hours to reach it. That means it will take days to determine whether attempts to restore the nearly 50-year-old computers have been successful.

This isn’t the first time Voyager 1 has sent out garbled signals: In 2022, a broken on-board computer caused a similar problem, and it took engineers months to fix the problem. However, in this case, the failure seems to be caused by a communication interruption between the two computers. NASA experts are now examining decades-old documents about the operation of the probe and its systems, which use outdated and almost forgotten technology. By comparison, a smartphone today can process more than 100 billion instructions per second, while Voyager 1’s computers can handle only about 8,000 per second.

If engineers can fix the malfunction, the hope is that Voyager 1 will be able to continue operating until at least its 50th birthday, in 2027. But in any case, the probe is destined to shut down soon: once it has When they passed the Oort, the cloud of comets located at the outer limits of the Solar System, 2,400 times the distance between the Sun and Pluto, its systems will run out of energy to power them. It has even been proposed that Voyager be sent one last message before its communications system fails for good: the words could thus be preserved for millennia, encoded in the memory of the onboard computers as the probe moves.

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