UI Plasma Wave Science spends 45 years in space

Two NASA spacecraft, originally intended to pass the planets Jupiter and Saturn, have been identified after 45 years of space exploration. The Plasma Wave Science instrument, created by UI scientists, remains an integral part of the spacecraft.


University of Iowa scientists helped create tools for VoyagerNASA’s longest-running mission, in 1977, marking 45 years of space science.

When the project began in the 1970s, UI research scientists contributed the Plasma Wave Science instrument to Voyager 1 and 2, which measures plasma naturally present in outer space.

William CourtA research scientist in UI’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, he is the third principal investigator for the Voyager Plasma Wave Science team, founded in the 1970s.

“I don’t think anyone realized that Voyager would last that long,” Kurt said. “They have a guarantee, so to speak, of four years, which is how long they will take to pass Jupiter and Saturn. Eleven times have passed since that period of performance.”

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according to NASA, the first Voyager mission was originally created for the United States to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After the spacecraft made discoveries, such as active volcanoes, Voyager 2 was born.

Both spacecraft are still sending information back to Earth from interstellar space and are exploring the Solar System.

The first spacecraft was launched on August 20, 1977, while the second spacecraft was launched on September 5, 1977.

Kurth came to the UI in 1969 and has worked with the Voyager mission ever since. As a graduate student, Kurth said he worked on the plasma instrument at both Voyagers, helping to test and calibrate them.

He said the two Voyager missions measure the density of the interstellar medium just beyond the heliosphere, the plasma boundary of the solar system.

“The original goal was to expand from Jupiter and Saturn to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune,” Kurth said.

Kurth said Voyager 1 is more than three-quarters of a light day from Earth. It takes 22 hours for a radio signal from Voyager 1 to be transmitted to Earth, he said.

We launched two spacecraft, and if one of them fails, we still have a chance to succeed in the mission. We have been very fortunate that both vehicles have been able to survive for 45 years now.”

Survival, he said, provided the opportunity to send spacecraft in different directions to the interstellar medium.

For Croth, his assignment to work on the Iowa Machine in the 1970s created history and years of happiness.

“I had no idea the breadth of the discoveries they were going to make, or the length of the mission, or the groundbreaking explorations they were going to make,” he said.

Larry Granrotha systems engineer at UI, also worked with the Voyager mission and entered data during the summer of 1979.

Granroth has worked as a full-time UI employee for 40 years. Work has begun on a project to digitize notes Whistles from Jupiter.

“What this means is that there are lightning discharges on Jupiter that produce these signals,” he said.

In addition, Granroth took charge of a public outreach project from UI professor and scientist Donald Gurnett. Gurnett served as the principal investigator for the Voyager Plasma Wave Science team and also helped create the plasma wave instrument.

The project was to create a public sphere in the 1990s for sharing space sound With the audience, he said.

“One of the first things we did was make audio recordings of many of these tasks publicly available,” Ganruth said. “It’s the only mission that was for all the exoplanets and now to interstellar space,” he said.

For Ganroth, the mission even resulted in scientists knowing more about the world than they ever expected.

“What is the goal of the human race if not to understand more of our environment, to learn more about the universe,” he said.

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