Voyager 1 showing signs of life for first time in months

Voyager 1, the farthest human-made object from Earth, has finally beamed back some decipherable data, stirring hopes that the interstellar probe, which has been transmitting gibberish since November 2023, can be salvaged.

The months-long babble stream from the Voyager 1 space probe might be coming to an end. NASA has announced that it successfully decoded parts of the data the spacecraft is sending back from 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) at the Solar System’s edge.

While Voyager 1 never stopped beaming information back to Earth, its signal has contained no usable data since late last year. Scientists surmised that an issue started affecting one of the craft’s onboard computers, the flight data subsystem (FDS).

However, on March 3rd, the Voyager mission discovered activity from one FDS section that differed from the computer’s unreadable data. While at first, it was not clear what the data was hiding, an engineer with the agency’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which operates the radio antennas that communicate with both Voyagers, was able to decode the signal and found that it contained a readout of the entire FDS memory.

“The FDS memory includes its code, or instructions for what to do, as well as variables, or values used in the code that can change based on commands or the spacecraft’s status. It also contains science or engineering data for downlink,” NASA said.

Scientists now hope that the readout will help them find the reason behind the transmission issue, which would help scientists fix the probe.

NASA says the new signal was retrieved thanks to a command the team called a “poke,” which means to “gently prompt the FDS to try different sequences in its software package in case the issue could be resolved by going around a corrupted section.”

Fixing a probe so far away from Earth presents unique challenges, Linda Spilker, Senior Research Scientist serving as the Voyager Project Scientist, told Cybernews in a recent interview. For one, it takes over 22 hours for radio signals to travel from Earth to Voyager 1, which means NASA scientists must wait for the response equally long.

When scientists had issues with Voyager 1 in the past, the team would figure out a way to read Voyager’s memory, compare it to what the scientists think it should look like, and fix the error.

Spilker compared the ongoing Voyager 1 repair efforts to fixing a computer that has its screen off: while scientists can still type in commands and know the device is receiving them, there’s no way of knowing what the commands do to the computer.

However, the “poke” command may have given scientists a way to finally understand what’s wrong with the probe and fix it – on its 47th year trekking the vastness of space.

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