Did aliens hijack the Voyager 2 space probe?
No, they didn't.
(Page 2 of 2)
As I discussed in a recent CRI English radio debate with Beyond Beijing hosts Chris Gelken and Xu Qinduo, the Voyager-alien implication is beyond funny; an entertaining sideline to poke fun at while NASA worked out what actually went wrong. But the big difference was that Chris and Xu had invited Seth Shostak (from the SETI Institute) and Douglas C. Lin (from the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University) to join the fun. No UFO expert in sight, so the discussion was biased toward science and logic, not crazy talk.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Famous Aliens
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
(It was an awesome show by the way, and you can check out the recording via my Discovery News article.)
So what did happen to Voyager 2? It turns out that aliens are not required to answer this cosmic mystery.
This glitch was thought to occur in the flight data system, which formats information for transmission to Earth. Should something go wonky in its memory allocation, the stuff it transmits can be turned into gibberish.
Although it isn’t known how this single bit was flipped (and we may never know, as Voyager 2 is an awful long way from home), it sounds very much like a cosmic ray event interfering with the onboard electronics. As cosmic rays are highly energetic charged particles, they can penetrate deep into computer systems, causing an error in calculations.
And this situation isn’t without precedent either. Recently, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was hit by a cosmic ray event, causing the onboard computer to switch to “safe mode.” Also, Voyager 2 is beginning to exit the Sun’s outermost sphere of influence, where turbulence and confused magnetic fields rule. If I had to guess, I’d say — statistically-speaking — the probe might have a greater chance of being hit by the most energetic cosmic rays from deep space.
Just because something “mysterious” happens in space doesn’t mean aliens, the Illuminati or some half-baked doomsday phenomenon caused it. Before jumping to conclusions it would be nice if certain newspapers and UFO experts alike could look at the most likely explanation before pulling the alien card.
Alas, I suspect that some things will never change.
Ian O'Neill blogs at AstroEngine.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best astronomy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.