Where’s the Exit*?

VoyagerThe Voyager I spacecraft was launched (to send a spacecraft into the sky) into space almost 36 years ago, in September, 1977. That was the year Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the U.S. The year the Apple II, Atari, and Commodore personal computers first went on sale. The year Elizabeth II celebrated her 25th year as Queen of England. The year Elvis Presley died. And the year the first Star Wars movie was released.

Since its launch, Voyager has traveled more than 11.5 billion miles (about 18.5 billion kilometers). It flew by Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980 and collected important information and photos of both planets. But it didn’t stop there. It has continued to fly toward interstellar (among the stars) space. But to the surprise of many scientists, Voyager still hasn’t reached interstellar space. Rather, it’s “entered a region (area) that no one expected and no one can yet explain,” according to a New York Times article.

What has happened to Voyager is like walking out of your house to go into the backyard to play. But when you step out of the house, you enter a porch (an entrance at the front or back of a house with a floor and roof but no walls) you didn’t know was there. And the porch turns out to be much larger than anyone would have expected. In other words, the exit wasn’t where scientists expected it to be.

Voyager’s experience tells us that our solar system (our sun and its planets) is much larger than anyone imagined. Voyager has traveled more than 36,000 miles per hour (about 58,000 kph) for almost 36 years – more than 11.5 billion miles – and it’s only gotten to the back porch of our solar system, not yet into the backyard of interstellar space. Rebecca Rosen, writing in The Atlantic, says that “the hardest thing to wrap one’s mind around (think about and understand) in astronomy … is scale: just how big … objects are, how far away they lie, and how long ago they formed (started to exist).”

While the Voyager story tells us something about the absolute (total; not compared to anything else) size of our solar system, Rosen’s story illustrates (shows us) something about the relative (one thing compared to another) size of the planets that make up our solar system.

Rosen tells the story of Ron Miller, a space artist. While looking at a photo of the moon over Death Valley, a part of the Mojave Desert in eastern California, he wondered what would happen if he replaced (removed one thing and put in another) the moon in the photo with each of the planets. He calculated (used numbers to find out) how large each planet would be in the photo if it were the same distance from earth as the moon. Then he scaled (made larger or smaller) each planet to the correct size and put them in the photo in place of the moon. You can see the results here.

Imagine sitting in your backyard watching Jupiter or Saturn rise after the sun goes down. Or imagine the blue glow (soft light) of Neptune or Uranus while driving through the countryside (rural area) at night. How would you feel if one of the planets appeared on the horizon (the line where the earth meets the sky) rather than the moon?

*exit = the way out of a room, building, airplane, etc.; the place where vehicles can leave a freeway (high-speed road) and connect with another road

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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8 Responses to Where’s the Exit*?

  1. Aécio Flávio Perim says:

    Very interesting story. How I want to go there and see with my own eyes. I guess there are more things in the solar system than men can see with telescopes. But men have big problems here on Earth, problems they haven’t still solved. Then we could look at all the problems we have here and forget the space. Why not to think about poor people, disabled people, conflicts, misunderstanding and so forth. It would be more productive try to share all the developments in science with each other. Excuse me if I don’t agree with most people.
    Aecio from beautiful Brazil, even the protests on the streets.

  2. Dan says:

    Hello everyone.

    Nice pictures there, and well manipulated too.

    The ones with Jupiter ans Saturn looks fascinating and scary. With Jupiter so close we would probably get stretched and sqeezed by its powerful gravitational pull.
    I do not want that for my cats. Jupiter better stay where it is right now.

    Unbelievable the velocity objects reach in space, isn’t it?

    It is always fascinating learning about our place in the galaxy and Universe.

    Thanks a lot

  3. Wang says:

    That doesn’t mean I’m lazy, don’t have abilities to take on the knowledge of those stars…It’s just I don’t care too much about them

    I’d rather to spare my time for other things than try to reach what I can’t get…:D excuse me!

    back then while driving, if i see the Jupiter or whatever it is instead of the moon…I will think it’s the moon 😀

    Except when there are other phenomenons or significant changes coming along to mark it is not a moon 😀

    Best regard! Have nice days guys


  4. Parviz says:

    Dear Warren,
    Thank you for touching on this interesting topic.
    I have always been, and still am, very interested in stars. When I was a teenager I used to lay down and watch the sky wondering what was going on out there.
    It seems not we are interested in outer space because they are mysterious, but also because there are many potential opportunities out there.
    I know little about Voyager I, but the news about its journey to outer space excited me very much.
    You know, the other I was reading an article about an astonishing behavior of a giant black hole.
    Astronomers used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer in Chile to observe the dust around the super-massive black hole at the center of the NGC 3783 galaxy.
    The scientist were surprised by the discovery. The black hole, like many at the centers of galaxies, is gorging itself on a feast of mass that is fallen toward it from the surrounding area.

    It is obvious that we are on the cusp finding new information about the universe. to me it seems a science fiction is unfolding.
    Thank you very much,

  5. emiliano says:

    Amazing, but it could make life imposible here at earth, who knows?.
    By the other hand life on earth didn´t exist along several thousand of millions and it was by chance that
    life begun as wise people said inside the wáter after several intents.
    Once I read a book of Carl Sagan that was fascinating about all this. I really like it.

    Everything round us is amazing an a mistery so better not asking us too much questions. To people who
    belives in God everything it could be easy finding an explanation about so much misteries about the
    universo but for other all these questions are like trying to empty the sea using a spoon, so many things
    to study that is really imposible.
    Earth is where it must be to support life on its suface, we form part for a short period of time of Earth´s
    life so we havee to care it as much as possible.
    That is my point of view.

    Thanks Warren, I do think you are a person who makes yourself several questions?. Always your themes
    are highly interesting. Thanks again.

    Just a fan of you. emilliano

  6. Peter says:

    stunning !!

    Extraterrestrial world always marvels me.
    It fascinates me knowing how big ,how far are them from one another.

    Where is the end of it ?
    The vast Cosmo always get me thinking how little I m


  7. Lassana says:

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for this topic, I like this kind of topic because it’s very impressive.

    I Think that our planet is one among millions or billion. I don’t know figures are astronomic and crazy!

    I think it’s a good idea to explore outour planet. Scientifics can find out a lot of things that may help us to better understand how certain phenomenons not explain again work.

    I’m wondering if with all these planets there is no one or several planets inhabited by others living beings. We don’t know.

    The being human has not traveled enough again to know if there is no living beings than us elsewhere.

    Maybe one day things will change…


  8. emiliano says:

    It must be so Lassana, who with a sane brain could think we are uniques in the whole world?.

    To be in touch with other inteligent forms of life could be really very difficult, or nearly impossible with our eyes or
    minds of today. But why not in future?´

    There are so infinite subjects and sciencies to dicover that to me it seems we know nothing yet about this so wide
    extremely big infinite world.

    In fact humans know nothing all it is to discover and in a short life like ours we all know everything round us
    is changing.

    Congratulations Lassana, it´s your National Feast Day.
    It´s just a pity, an history fault, that you French people couldn´t transmit us more of your Revolution and made of
    this stubbon Spaniard people a more evolution country.

    Opportunity past only once infront your house, our house, and we didn´t seize the opportunity in its moment
    and begun and absurd war called “Independece Ward” so stupid historical mistake that we have paid so much

    So have a nice day that could be also our day if we would be more inteligent people.

    My best dear French friend……..By the way you are French, don´t you?

    If not, have a good day also.


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