Sunday, September 15, 2013

Music in the Spheres

Let me mark here, even if a few days late, the official recognition that NASA’s Voyager 1, launched September 5, 1977, has finally passed through the walls of the solar bubble. This bubble, also known as the heliosphere, is the solar wind moving from the sun and filling space with charged particles. It weakens or falls off in what is called the Stagnation Region beginning at around 113 astronomical units out from the sun; each AU is about 150 billion miles. Well, Voyager had reached well beyond that point, touching actual interstellar space, 122 AU out, on August 25, 2012 already—but what with uncertainties still to be resolved, it took NASA another year to be sure of this—hence its firm announcement on September 12 of this year that we’ve finally reached interstellar space with out little machine. Herewith a brief NASA film summarizing the essentials:


The program, consisting of Voyager 1 and 2, cost $865 million. That sum represents less than four days of expenditures on the Afghanistani conflict; therefore you might call it a pittance. The mission, however, has lasted for 36 years. It illustrates, in a way, the theme of the poem I put up today. Voyager’s design, launch, and operation—and the analysis of the great emptiness, throbbing although it is with ionized vibrations—involves people whose minds are filled with matter very far removed from those engaged in our global conflicts.

Noted, here and there, is the fact that Voyager 1 carries to the empty outer reaches the recorded music of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Stravinsky. We can relax a little considering that, if there is intelligent life out there, and it chances upon Voyager 1—and it has invented the appropriate instrument—it will finally be able to learn how to play the well-tempered clavier.

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