A University of Iowa physicist is looking forward to more discoveries with Voyager 1, while celebrating the historic mission that was launched 40 years ago today.
Don Gurnett designed and helped build one of the instruments on Voyager 1, the first space craft to explore the solar system’s outer planets.
“For me, it’s a momentous time in the sense of 40 years,” Gurnett said. “I used to think of myself as almost a kid when I started this project, but actually I was 37. I figured that out the other day.”
The now 77-year-old Gurnett remains a major player in the Voyager 1 mission. In 2012, he officially determined that Voyager 1 entered interstellar space.
“I think a lot of people thought once we get into interstellar space it would just be smooth, nothing changing and relatively uninteresting – but that has turned out not to be the case,” Gurnett said.
The space craft, launched on September 5, 1977, has journeyed farther than any man-made object. Voyager continues to collect information, although Gurnett believes its days are numbered.
“Our biggest problem is running out of electrical power in probably another 10 years or so,” Gurnett said. “We think we can keep running it until 2025.”
The radio and plasma wave instrument that Gurnett helped build for Voyager 1 discovered, among other findings, that Jupiter has lightning. Gurnett has been teaching at the University of Iowa for 52 years.