In 1977, the same year Elvis left the building (for good), Voyager-1 began its journey toward the outer reaches of the heliosphere. Flash-forward 36 years and the headline this week is that “Voyager-1 has left the solar system.” For good. Like, sayanora. Like, it’s not coming back. So forget those earrings you loaned it.
Why would Voyager-1 return given what’s happened on Earth in the decades since it split? Not to mention Star Trek: the Movie Picture which postulated a sixth Voyager that became sentient and had a cosmic threesome with a bald Indian supermodel and the priest from 7th Heaven.
In about 10 years, Voyager-1 will have traveled so far outside our solar system we will no longer receive its interplanetary postcards. These were mostly planet porn and reports on cosmic rays anyway. In about 40,000 years, it will be within 1.7 light years of a star called AC+793888.
Any place that looks like an algebra equation has got to be far away, right? Below is Voyager-1’s last glance at Earth – just dust in the solar wind.
If it ever gets nostalgic, Voyager-1 will do what other 40-somethings do when sentimental – play records. Well, the one record. The Voyager Golden Record is a 12-inch disc crammed with analog information including a sampling of Earth’s greatest hits. Selected by astronomer and amateur DJ Carl Sagan, Voyager-1 will spend its retirement as something of an interstellar jukebox.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the contents of Voyager’s astronomic album includes Mozart, Stravinsky, Chuck Berry, Beethoven and no fewer than three tracks by Bach (among other tunes more broadly representative of the world’s peoples – here’s the entire track listing courtesy of NASA).
The penultimate track, however, the one sandwiched between a raga and Beethoven, is the soundtrack to Voyager-1’s mission now. Long after the Earth has self-destructed from future fools who will look just like us, Voyager-1 alone will prove there was once hope in humanity. And the song it will sing deep in the ink of empty space will be Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark is the Night. I can think of few things more apt or sad.