Visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, the Voyager program can only be called an unqualified success on virtually every level.
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The twin spacecraft returned thousands of photographs and reams of scientific data that fundamentally changed our understanding of our entire solar system. Currently in interstellar space, Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object from Earth. Voyager 2 is near the edge of our solar system and will one day also enter interstellar space. Many people are unaware that even after over 40 years, both probes are still actively generating scientific data and transmitting it to Earth.
Although many of the instruments installed on Voyager 1 and 2 have been deactivated or have failed, several continue to function.
Powered by nuclear radioisotope thermoelectric generators RTGs , both probes should be able to continue to operate for several more years. This instrument consists of two metal devices known as Faraday cups placed at right angles to each other. The one pointed along the Earth-spacecraft line records data regarding the velocity, density, and pressure of plasma ions.
The other off-axis device measures electrons within certain energy parameters.
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The PLS system was critical to studying the solar wind the stream of charged particles flowing out of the Sun , determining how the solar wind interacts with planets, evaluating plasma in the magnetosphere of Jupiter and how it is affected by its moons, and studying ions both within and outside of the solar system. As its name implies, the CRS detects cosmic rays high-energy particles that originate outside of our solar system. The CRS can identify both electrons and protons around the spacecraft and has been used to study the solar wind as well as the electrical flow around planets such as Saturn.
As the spacecraft approached the edge of the solar system, the CRS was vital to determining when Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock, where solar wind markedly slows, and when the spacecraft later detected a sharp rise in cosmic rays it was felt to be one of the confirmatory pieces of evidence that it had indeed crossed into true interstellar space. Biologists have identified at least six properties that are shared by all living organisms on Earth: Many species have evolved to have unique body shapes and characteristics in order to adapt to unique situations in their environment.
Reproduction: Living things have the ability to reproduce their own kind.
Simple life forms, such as bacteria, reproduce by dividing and making almost exact replicas of themselves. More complex organisms reproduce sexually, so that their offspring have genetic material from two individuals. Offspring with traits from both parents have a greater chance of survival because they are better able to adapt. Growth and Development: Living organisms grow and develop in patterns determined by heredity, the traits passed to offspring by parents.
Energy Utilization: Living things need to capture and use energy, a process known as metabolism. An example of such a process is photosynthesis, whereby plants convert sunlight into energy.
Response to Stimuli: Living organisms respond to changes in their environment. Evolutionary Adaptation: Living things evolve in such a way that future generations are adapted to unique situations in their surroundings. For example, the hammerhead shark, considered to be perhaps the most highly evolved species of shark, has superior vision and sensory perception due to its hammer-shaped head.
Organisms that cannot adapt to a changing environment decline or become extinct. It is important to remember that some objects may have some of these properties but still not be a living organism. For example, fire uses energy, can grow, and responds to its environment such as when it spreads rapidly in response to winds , but fire is not a living thing.
The Habitable Zone Since the telescope was first invented in , technological advances have made it possible for us to look at other planets in our solar system, and even far beyond to other galaxies. One of the primary motivations for exploring our solar system is to answer the question, " Are we alone? When considering what places in our Solar System might harbor life now or in the past, scientists must look at the conditions that make a planetary surface habitable. Most scientists agree that the presence of liquid water is the primary requirement for life.
But can liquid water exist anywhere in the solar system? Earth's distance from the Sun allows its surface to be within a precise temperature range that makes it possible for liquid water to exist. If Earth's temperature were much warmer, liquid water would evaporate or be lost to space; if it were colder, liquid water would freeze. The region of the Solar System where temperatures allow liquid water to exist on a planetary surface is called the habitable zone. First, a planet's distance from the Sun affects not only surface temperatures, but also processes that lead to water evaporation.
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Due to its tremendous greenhouse effect resulting in extremely high surface temperatures, Venus is not considered to be habitable because it is too hot for liquid water to exist. At the other end of the spectrum, the planets and moons in the outer reaches of our solar system, like Pluto, are too cold to have liquid water on the surface. Lastly, processes that lead to atmospheric loss play a key role in habitability. Most researchers agree that early Mars had a much thicker atmosphere, but it gradually lost its atmosphere over billions of years, which was directly related to the planet's dramatic cooling.
In addition, many scientists believe that plate tectonics are a requirement for habitability, because they drive the carbon cycle. This cycle is a complex series of processes where much of the Earth's carbon is exchanged between the crust, oceans, and atmosphere. Earth is the only planet currently known to have active plate tectonics.