Aug 23, 2017

Where the Sun Don't Shine

Today we take a quick look up at a hole in the sky and follow an old story as it travels beyond the reach of the sun. We hear from some moon-peeping listeners and then, on the 40th anniversary of their launch, we check in with the Voyager space probes. We revisit the story of the romantic time capsules that were placed onboard, and a question we asked five years ago: where exactly is Voyager 1? 

Original piece reported by Lynn Levy. This update was produced by Amanda Aronczyk and Annie McEwen.

Special thanks to Don Gurnett, Elizabeth Landau, Sarah Mozal, and Andrew Good.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.    

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Speaker 1:

Wait, wait, you're lis- (laughs)

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Speaker 1:

All right.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Speaker 1:

All right.

 

Speaker 2:

You're listening-

 

Speaker 1:

Listening-

 

Speaker 2:

... Radio Lab. Lab. Lab.

 

Speaker 1:

Radio Lab.

 

Speaker 2:

From-

 

Speaker 1:

WNYC

 

Andrea:

All right, so tell us who you are.

 

Nivee:

I am [Nivee 00:00:23]!

 

Andrea:

And I'm Andrea, Nivee's mom. We are in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the great American eclipse. We are about a minute to totality.

 

Nivee:

Oh, look, I can see it. Even when I'm, uh, even when it's not on.

 

Andrea:

We can hear the cicadas?

 

Nivee:

And we, and look, I don't even have my sunglasses on and- and I can still.

 

Andrea:

No, you can't look at it without your sunglasses on. You're just holding them up?

 

Nivee:

Yeah.

 

Andrea:

What do you see if you look this way? Is it looking dark?

 

Nivee:

Yeah, it looks like a storm coming in.

 

Andrea:

It does look like a storm coming in.

 

Nivee:

I know.

 

Speaker 5:

Jupiter!

 

Nivee:

Jupiter? Where?

 

Andrea:

Oh my gosh. Oh, oh my god. Oh.

 

Nivee:

I see nothing.

 

Andrea:

Are you looking up? Oh my god. Oh my god. Can you see the ring?

 

Nivee:

Yeah. Totality.

 

Speaker 6:

Holy Toledo.

 

Speaker 5:

Yeah, yeah.

 

Speaker 7:

Oh my god, Stella, look. Look up there.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumarad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. All right, so these last few weeks on planet Earth, on this corner of planet Earth, have been a little confusing, a little crazy. But then there was yesterday, and we all got a reprieve, we just got a chance to look up.

 

Speaker 6:

Look at that, look. Look up at the sun.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Couple hundred people sent us recordings from all over the place.

 

Speaker 7:

I'm in Greeley, Colorado.

 

Speaker 10:

Helen, Georgia.

 

Speaker 11:

Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Speaker 12:

Kenmore, Washington.

 

Speaker 13:

Carbondale, Illinois.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sent us recordings of themselves, watching the moon pass right in front of the sun.

 

Speaker 6:

That's the moon in front of the sun. The moon is blocking the sun.

 

Speaker 5:

I see Venus.

 

Andrea:

Oh my god, that is wild.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And I got to say, you hear these recordings and you can't help but think, think we're going to be all right.

 

Nivee:

I can only see black.

 

Andrea:

Here, stand up. It's beautiful.

 

Speaker 6:

Oh my god.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, in honor of this celestial miracle. Today we're going to keep looking up. But not in the direction of the sun.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, you know, when you look up at the sun you have to put on these glasses to, to, to protect yourself from the sunshine. The sunshine is very powerful and it, it stretches across vast, vast, vast, vast distances in space. But what were going to do with the [inaudible 00:03:25] is we're going to leave the sunshine behind. We're actually going to escape the sunshine where humans have never been before.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right, and we're going to start with a story that I've been following pretty much my entire career at Radiolab. You're going to have to rewind back 1977, I mean, that's not when I started following the story, that when the story itself started. In August of 1977, NASA launched a spacecraft and on the craft was a gold record. And the record carried a message, this was a message from us to them out there. Our story, now it was Carl Sagan...

 

Carl Sagan:

The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That led the team that made that record. And that team included, actually it was headed by a woman named Ann Druyan. And about ten years ago, I spoke with Annie and, uh, we made this story that you're about to hear.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I visited Annie at her home in Ithaca, New York, and we sat in the back yard near a waterfall. In the same spot, she says, where Carl himself would sit and become so absorbed in what he was reading that he would not notice a deer standing right next to him.

 

Ann Druyan:

My name is Annie Druyan and, um, I was honored to be the creative director of the Voyager Interstellar Message Project, which began in early 1977.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now how did this come about? I think about the project now and its so exciting to think about. I mean, it's such a romantic idea. Did you know that at the time?

 

Ann Druyan:

Absolutely. We felt, first of all, that this was kind of a sacred trust that, here we were, half a dozen and very flawed human beings with, uh, huge, uh, huge holes in our knowledge of all of these subjects, building a cultural Noah's Ark. It was a chance to tell something of what life on Earth was like to being of perhaps a thousand, million years from now. Because the, the Voyager engineers were saying, "This record will have a shelf life of a billion years." If that didn't raise goosebumps, then you'd have to be made of wood. Uh, it was also the, the, the season that Carl Sagan and I fell so madly in love with each other. And here we were taking on this mythic challenge. And knowing that before it was done, two spacecraft would lift off from the planet Earth, moving at an average speed of 35,000 miles an hour for the next thousand million years. And on it would be a kiss, a mother's first words to her newborn baby.

 

Speaker 16:

Oh come on now, good girl.

 

Ann Druyan:

Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, greetings in the 59 most populous human languages.

 

Speaker 17:

[foreign language 00:06:29] Hello from the children of planet Earth.

 

Ann Druyan:

As well as one non-human language, the greetings of the Humpback whales. And it was a sacred undertaking. Because it was saying, "We want to be citizens of the cosmos. We want you to know about us."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tell me about the moment you fell in love with Carl Sagan. You said it was during the Voyager compilation.

 

Ann Druyan:

Yes it was. It was on June 1st 1977. I had been looking, for some time, for that piece of Chinese music that we could put on the Voyager record and not feel like idiots for having done so. And, um, I was very excited because I had finally found a ethnomusicology, a composer at Columbia University, who told me, without a moment's hesitation, that this piece, Flowing Streams, which was represented to me as one of the oldest pieces of Chinese music, 2,500 years old, was the piece we should put on the record.

 

Ann Druyan:

So I, uh, called Carl, who was traveling, he was in Tucson, Arizona giving a talk. And, um, we had been alone, many times during the making of the record, and as friends for three years. And neither of us had ever, uh, said anything to the other, we were both involved with other people. We'd had these wonderful, soaring conversations. But we had both been completely just professional about everything and as friends. And, uh, he wasn't there, left a message.

 

Ann Druyan:

Hour later, phone rings, pick up the phone. And I hear this wonderful voice and he said, "I get back my hotel room and I find this message and it says Annie called. And I say to myself, Why didn't you leave me this message ten years ago?" And my heart completely skipped a beat, I can still remember it, so perfectly. And I said, "For keeps?" And he said, "You mean get married?" And I said, "Yes." And we had never kissed, we had never, you know, even had any kind of personal discussion before. We both hung up the phone and I just screamed out loud. I remember it so well, because it was this great eureka moment. It was just, like, a scientific discovery.

 

Ann Druyan:

And then phone rang, and I was thinking, "Oh (beep)." You know, like... And the phone rang and it was Carl, and he said, "I just want to make sure, that really happened. We're getting married, right?" And I said, "Yeah, we're getting married." He said, "Okay, just wanted to make sure." And, um, the spacecraft lifted off on August 20th and August 22nd, we told everyone involved and we were together from that moment until his death in 1996 in December.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow, talk about romantic, my god.

 

Ann Druyan:

It was so romantic. And part of my feeling about Voyager, obviously and part of what I was feeling in the recording of my brainwaves, my heart, my eyes, everything, in that meditation on the record. I had asked Carl whether or not, it would be possible to compress the impulses in one's brain and nervous system into sound and then put that sound on the record. And then think, that perhaps, the extraterrestrials of the future would be able to reconstitute that data into thought. And he looked at me, in beautiful May day in New York City, and said, "Well, you know, a thousand million years is a long time, you know? Why don't you go do it and... because who knows, you know, who knows what's possible in a thousand million years."

 

Ann Druyan:

And so, um, my brainwaves and REM, every little sound that my body was making was recorded at Bellevue Hospital in New York. This was two days after Carl and I declared our love for each other and so what I often think is that maybe a hundred million years from now, you know, somebody flies that record down and, I always wonder, because part of what I was thinking in this meditation was about the wonder of love and of being in love. And to know its on those two spacecraft, even now in my... Whenever I'm down, you know, I'm thinking, "And still they move. 35,000 miles an hour. Leaving our solar system for the great wide open sea of interstellar space."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Billions of years from now, the sun will have reduced this planet to a charred ashy ball. But that record, with Ann Druyan's brainwaves and heartbeat on it will still be out there, somewhere, intact. In some remote region of the Milk Way, preserving a murmur of an ancient civilization that once flourished on a distant planet.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So that's how we ended the original story, uh, with that quote from Carl Sagan. And, um, it happens to be, actually, the 40th anniversary of the Voyager probes launch. I mean, we're sort of in between the two dates were probe 1 and probe 2 were launched. And so, we were thinking about the anniversary and, uh, our producer, Amanda Aronczyk, called Ann Druyan again. And they got to talking about the fact that we still... scientists are still talking to those probes.

 

Ann Druyan:

That's the thing that gets me. Here we are 40 years later, and Voyager 1, we're still in contact with Voyager 1. We still know where Voyager 1 and 2 are. We were able to build something so well that with the energy, which is essentially more feeble than the energy in a toaster, we can communicate with Voyager as she leaves to wander the Milky Way galaxy, intact, with the message intact. Well those same engineers said it would work for dozen years, it's 40 years and it's still working.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So coming up, we're going to ask, "Where are they, actually? Where specifically are those two probes now?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

And the answer is, they're in a very, very, very undiscovered place. I mean they are learning things that we have never known.

 

Speaker 18:

(singing)

 

Becca:

Hey, this is Becca, I'm calling from Dallas, Texas to let you know that Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan www.sloan.org

 

Ilya Marritz:

Hello, it's Ilya Marritz, cohost of Trump, Inc. Donald Trump is the only recent president to not release his tax returns, the only president you can pay directly by booking a room at his hotel. He shreds rules, sometimes literally.

 

Speaker 21:

He didn't care what records was. He tore memos or things and just threw them in the trash. So it took somebody from the White House staff to tell him, like, "Look, you can't do that."

 

Ilya Marritz:

Trump, Inc. An open investigation into the business of Trump. From ProPublica and WNYC. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And now, we're going to ask, "Where are those Voyager probes, like, right now?"

 

Jad Abumrad:

I mean, again, this is a story we've been following forever. And about five years ago, producer Lynn Levy began to ask herself that question, where are they. Because at that point, news starting to bubble up that the, that the Voyager probes were about to tiptoe their way across a truly amazing threshold.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And at that moment, it wasn't completely clear what was happened. So, so here's what we reported then.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We're break in at a certain point and update things even further, but Lynn began this story where the last one left off.

 

Lynn Levy:

Okay, so, like, in... the point of the mission wasn't really to deliver this record, it was to go out and look at all the planets in the outer solar system.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Lynn Levy:

So, starting in 1977, these two little spaceships...

 

Merav Opher:

Two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2-

 

Lynn Levy:

Went racing away from Earth, snapping pictures.

 

Merav Opher:

And so every time Voyager would reach another planet, you know, all of the Voyager people would get together, go into the imaging room and see the pictures come from the outer solar system.

 

Lynn Levy:

Do you remember seeing them?

 

Merav Opher:

I remember as child seeing Life magazine, you know, I was seven when the Voyager was launched, so.

 

Lynn Levy:

This is Merav.

 

Merav Opher:

I'm Merav Opher, professor at, uh, Boston University.

 

Lynn Levy:

As a grown up, she became part of the Voyager team.

 

Merav Opher:

All the pictures that, you know, as a kid, you look at the books and to see what, how Neptune look, how Jupiter look.

 

Lynn Levy:

You know, just complete revelation-

 

Merav Opher:

Saturn.

 

Lynn Levy:

The image of Saturn.

 

Merav Opher:

Technicolor.

 

Lynn Levy:

Like, pink and-

 

Merav Opher:

Like reddish.

 

Lynn Levy:

Turquoise colors.

 

Merav Opher:

Yellow.

 

Lynn Levy:

And those rings. Just spectacular. They could see active volcanoes on one of the moons of Jupiter.

 

Merav Opher:

Finally that vision of Neptune, of this, like, blue jewel.

 

Lynn Levy:

Really blue.

 

Merav Opher:

It's all came from Voyager. We had no idea how they look like before Voyager.

 

Lynn Levy:

Neptune was the last big, cool planet. And it was the last thing they were supposed to photograph.

 

Merav Opher:

After that the cameras were going to be shut off to save energy.

 

Lynn Levy:

But-

 

Merav Opher:

Carl Sagan convinced them to turn Voyager back to Earth and take a final picture.

 

Lynn Levy:

So on Valentine's Day, 1990, uh, one of the ships slowly rotated so it was facing back to Earth and it snapped picture.

 

Merav Opher:

One last picture.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Describe it.

 

Lynn Levy:

So it's mostly empty, um, it's, it's pretty dark. You can see, sort of, streaks of light coming from the sun. And then, you honestly wouldn't notice it if it wasn't pointed out to you. But down in one corner, kind of, uh, suspended in a sun beam...

 

Merav Opher:

There is a very small dot, blue.

 

Lynn Levy:

A pale blue dot. That was us. In Carl Sagan's words...

 

Merav Opher:

Everyone you ever knew, everyone you ever loved, every superstar, every corrupt politician, just everyone in all of history, everything, the sum total. Think of the rivers of blood that have run so that one indistinguishable group could have momentary domination over a fraction of that pixel.

 

Lynn Levy:

It was one of those really rare images.

 

Merav Opher:

Every single day, I hear from people who take that pale blue dot so deeply to heart and-

 

Lynn Levy:

It was, it was a complete reframing.

 

Merav Opher:

After that, the cameras were turned off.

 

Lynn Levy:

But here's the thing, the ships kept going, going, going, going. Drifting through the darkness, going, going, going, going. Even though they weren't taking pictures anymore, they were using, like, their other senses. Little instruments that detect, like, how many particles are around, what the temperature is. So they were hurdling through this empty space, really fast, measuring, sending that data back. And scientists like Merav were there listening and waiting.

 

Jad Abumrad:

For what?

 

Merav Opher:

It was not clear.

 

Lynn Levy:

But they knew at some point these capsules would get to the edge.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The edge of what?

 

Lynn Levy:

The solar system.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The solar system has an edge? I thought it was just big spiral.

 

Lynn Levy:

It has an edge, it's a, it's like a bubble.

 

Merav Opher:

See, the, the sun has a wind. Every star has a wind, but the sun has it's own wind.

 

Lynn Levy:

That blows out through the solar system.

 

Merav Opher:

It's very fast, it can be between, uh, 400 to 800 kilometers per second.

 

Lynn Levy:

Anyway it blows out from the sun, past all the planets, and, uh, it keeps everything else out.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh so its like blowing up a balloon.

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah, exactly.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The wind gives it a shape.

 

Lynn Levy:

Right. So these little things are cruising out towards this edge, wherever it is. Scientists don't quite know where it is or what it is. The guys in the control room are like pinging the ships and like, "Hey, what's, what's up. What do you see?" And the ships are like, "Nothing." "Well how about now?" "Not much." "Now?" "Nothing."

 

Jad Abumrad:

And how long before they actually see something?

 

Lynn Levy:

14 years.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh man, that's like driving through Kansas, but, like, a million times worse.

 

Lynn Levy:

But, there comes a day...

 

Merav Opher:

End of 2004...

 

Lynn Levy:

Where they stop listening for a little while because the antenna... NASA only has so many antennas and they have to use them to listen to everything.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Lynn Levy:

So for a little while, the Voyager team's like, "Okay, you guys over there can use the antennas, we're going to lunch."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, I mean it's not like anything is going to happen.

 

Lynn Levy:

Nothing's happening anyway, its been 14 god damn years.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Knock yourself out.

 

Lynn Levy:

You guys, it's cool. And they come back, a few hours later, start listening again. And...

 

Merav Opher:

It's, it's happened very sudden.

 

Lynn Levy:

Everything is totally changed. All of a sudden, boom.

 

Merav Opher:

The speed of the wind dropped from around 380 kilometers per second to 100.

 

Lynn Levy:

Instantly, like all at once.

 

Merav Opher:

Instantly.

 

Lynn Levy:

And then everything out there started to get messy.

 

Merav Opher:

Very turbulent. Much more turbulent than before. Particles are also, um, behaving in a very different way. And the fields are very, um, weird.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The fields?

 

Merav Opher:

The magnetic field.

 

Lynn Levy:

So just like the sun has a wind...

 

Merav Opher:

The sun has a magnetic field as well.

 

Lynn Levy:

The field starts at the sun and then curves out in this, kind of, graceful arc through the solar system.

 

Merav Opher:

And, uh, how the sun rotates create what people call ballerina skirt.

 

Lynn Levy:

You know how, like, a skirt will flare if you spin around real fast?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

 

Lynn Levy:

That's apparently, kind of, what this field looks like.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh

 

Lynn Levy:

But way out there, it seems like this skirt had started to fray. Maybe tear a little. Threads had broken off. And seemed to be floating around on their own, not connected to anything.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So what does this all mean? I mean, if the fields are breaking down, and the wind is dying down and you said the wind is actually what creates the space of the solar system. Does this mean we're out?

 

Lynn Levy:

No. I kind of thought that's what was happening, but no. It's not out and it's not quite in. It's in the edge of the bubble.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's in the edge?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah, but it's not, um, not like a little thin edge. It's a thick, thick edge.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh, so the edge isn't just a little line that you cross, it's a place.

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah. And while we listened, the two Voyager ships moved through this edge for several years.

 

Merav Opher:

Then something very interesting happened. Um, that the wind on Voyager 1 stopped.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like, completely stopped?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So now we're out?

 

Lynn Levy:

No.

 

Merav Opher:

No.

 

Lynn Levy:

I mean-

 

Merav Opher:

This is what people thought. But the other measurements-

 

Lynn Levy:

Like temperature, number of particles, the magnetic field-

 

Merav Opher:

Doesn't tell us that we are out of the bubble. Nature surprised us again.

 

Lynn Levy:

So now we think there's a place at the edge of our solar system-

 

Merav Opher:

Right at the edge-

 

Lynn Levy:

The edge of the edge. That's utterly still. No wind at all. A pause.

 

Merav Opher:

People are calling it the stagnation layer. And there is a big discussion why this layer exists and how thick it is.

 

Lynn Levy:

And by how thick it is, she means, when will it end? Because once we get past this... So has anything ever crossed this boundary before?

 

Merav Opher:

No, this will be the first manmade object to leave any star. And, uh, Voyager is, like, right there, smelling, touching that boundary.

 

Lynn Levy:

You know, you only do those things first once. Like your first kiss, your first taste of alcohol, your first time driving a car, the first time you see the ocean. These things open up a whole new world. First time out of the solar system.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So when is it going to freaking happen?

 

Lynn Levy:

It might have happened while we were talking.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ah.

 

Merav Opher:

We're thinking from now, any moment, now, next couple months or three years from now, four years from now. It's close.

 

Lynn Levy:

Every day I open my Google alert for Voyager and I look and see, did it happen today?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Do you really?

 

Lynn Levy:

Because if it happens before this show goes out, I'm going to be pissed. Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Every day?

 

Lynn Levy:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's the first thing you do in the morning?

 

Lynn Levy:

No.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right, good.

 

Lynn Levy:

Like, the third thing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay, so when, uh, producer Lynn Levy left that story, at that point, five years ago, it seemed like the Voyager probes were in this weird liminal space, kind of stuck somewhere in the edge of the edge of our planetary neighborhood. And that out moment, that transition moment, could happen at any time. That's where we left it. Which seemed, honestly, kind of frustrating. Like, we did the story too soon, you know, like that happens every so often. So we decided to call Merav Opher back, she's the scientist you heard in the story who was part of the Voyager team. And we asked her to, to pick up the story, like, what happened?

 

Merav Opher:

Okay, so, since then we were waiting, right?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right.

 

Merav Opher:

And this story is fascinating and a little complicated too. Because this was back in 2012, right?

 

Jad Abumrad:

She says shortly after our story was released-

 

Merav Opher:

Couple of months later, so was in August, around August 2012.

 

Jad Abumrad:

About six months after our story.

 

Merav Opher:

The particles, this was fascinating, the energetic particles from the sun, um, dropped.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So some people thought, "Oh no sun particles, that must mean we're out."

 

Merav Opher:

But couple of days later, they came back.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh.

 

Merav Opher:

And then, there was the same intensity as before and then they dropped again. It's almost felt that somebody had opened a window and then closed the window and then opened a window and then closed a window.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh wow.

 

Merav Opher:

So it was kind of weird.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That is weird.

 

Merav Opher:

You expect the classic crossing, it should be sudden.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

 

Merav Opher:

It should be, "Oh you're in or you're out."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Merav Opher:

You don't have this intermediate, I'm in, I'm out, I'm in, I'm out.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) I know.

 

Merav Opher:

And so, so this was not the classic textbook. And was very, like, uh, what's going on? And there was very heated discussions because, you know, you're waiting to say the public, are we really across the solar system for the first time or not? And we can not say.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That must have been frustrating.

 

Merav Opher:

Super frustrating.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And she says scientists started arguing. I mean, there was a bunch of, uh, conferences and meetings where they got together and the scientists essentially broke into factions. Like, you had one faction that was like, "We are out." Another faction was like, "No, no, we're in." And she says at one of those meetings...

 

Merav Opher:

There was a vote, are we in or are we out. And I, and I just felt this is crazy, this is such a major milestone [crosstalk 00:26:38]

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) you can't vote on it, it has nothing to do with that.

 

Merav Opher:

Exactly. It was almost like Christopher Columbus, right? Did we really arrive to America, a vote. And it was just crazy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But she says, they did vote.

 

Merav Opher:

And the vote was still we're inside.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So towards the end of 2012, that's what they though, we're still in. But-

 

Merav Opher:

Something changed. And, and this something is the sound we were hearing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Around the time of these arguments the Voyager was sending back sound.

 

Merav Opher:

The Voyager doesn't have a lot of energy on board, right? So they have a tape recorder so-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, there's a tape recorder? Really?

 

Merav Opher:

Yes. I think it's an 8-track.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What? Like an 8-track 8-track?

 

Merav Opher:

Jad, I think.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It turns out it's true. There, there are 8-tracks on both of the probes that are capturing ultra low frequency plasma waves.

 

Merav Opher:

Two to three kilohertz.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which you can actually hear. Now that whoosh...

 

Merav Opher:

That is just the background of the power supply.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's just the sound of the Voyager itself idling basically. Cruising through empty space. But she says when you listen to the following recording, this, what you're about to hear is eight months of time, from late 2012 into 2013, eight months, collapsed into a tiny clip. What you hear are these little swells. And there's one. And there's another.

 

Merav Opher:

You have those ramps.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now this part gets kind of confusing, but essentially Merav says those swells, that's the Voyager spacecraft colliding with some new galactic stuff.

 

Merav Opher:

So you're hearing, there is a ramp of density as you go in to interstellar space.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I had thought that those sounds, one of those two sounds, is the Voyager bursting out of our solar system, but she told me-

 

Merav Opher:

No, no.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What it is, is the sound of the Voyager already on the other side. It's the Voyager basically saying, "I'm in a new space now." And after some analysis, and this part I cannot explain, uh, NASA pinpointed the ejection moment, the crossover moment to just before the first of those two swells. So this is the first swell. Its just before that. Maybe right there. Like right there. That's when we left.

 

Merav Opher:

Its so undramatic. (laughs) But we finally escaped.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Official exit day-

 

Merav Opher:

25th of August of 2012.

 

Speaker 18:

(singing)

 

Robert Krulwich:

So now we have a human manufacture that has left the sphere of the sun. You know that's on the other side, in the other ocean.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Merav Opher:

It's like I am, I am, I don't know, its bittersweet to, to see all this incredible data that Voyager is giving us and I want more, I would like another mission there.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Merav Opher:

It's almost like somebody give you, like, a taste. Look how interesting this data is and whoop, they're leaving.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Speaking of leaving, Merav says that we can expect to communicate with the Voyager probes for about another eight to ten years. But then, eventually they will lose power and go dark.

 

Andrea:

It's recording.

 

Nivee:

What time is it?

 

Speaker 6:

It's 11:33.

 

Speaker 5:

One more minute.

 

Speaker 6:

Like, one minute, we're getting close.

 

Speaker 5:

It's getting so dark.

 

Speaker 6:

Just a sliver of a sliver left.

 

Speaker 24:

About 30 seconds.

 

Speaker 6:

It's getting dark, it's okay.

 

Speaker 5:

Whoa.

 

Speaker 6:

Whoa, look at all the, the lights are turning on.

 

Speaker 24:

Yeah

 

Speaker 7:

The street lights have turned on.

 

Speaker 11:

We're about 10 second from total eclipse.

 

Speaker 12:

There it goes there it goes.

 

Speaker 11:

Oh my god. Whoa its almost gone.

 

Speaker 6:

Look at that, look. Look up at the sun.

 

Speaker 13:

Emma, look up!

 

Speaker 12:

What the-

 

Speaker 7:

That's it.

 

Speaker 11:

We've hit total eclipse.

 

Speaker 10:

Oh my god. Wow.

 

Speaker 7:

I can see the corona.

 

Speaker 11:

Oh my god, look at it.

 

Speaker 12:

Oh my god, its incredible. Oh my, I'm crying.

 

Speaker 6:

The big black dot in the middle of the sky with white halos coming from it (laughs) Oh my goodness, the stars. Look at the-

 

Speaker 5:

Stars. Stars.

 

Speaker 12:

Look at the stars, Max.

 

Nivee:

Look how beautiful that is.

 

Speaker 5:

Look at all the stars. Stars. The stars.

 

Speaker 11:

There's Venus, there's a plane and then there's, uh-

 

Speaker 6:

Look at Venus.

 

Speaker 5:

Its so pretty, its so pretty.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thank you to everybody who sent in their recordings. Big thanks to producer Lynn Levy, To scientist Merav Opher, Amanda Aronczyk for producing this update, and Annie Druyan.

 

Speaker 1:

To play the message, press two.

 

Merav Opher:

I am Merav Opher, professor of astronomy at Boston University. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and it's produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design, our staff includes Simon Adler, David Gebel, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack and Molly Webster. With help from Rebecca [inaudible 00:32:49], Nigar Fatali, Phoebe Wang and Katie Ferguson. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.

 

Speaker 1:

End of message.

 

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