One small change in magnetic-field direction for Voyager 1, one vast expansion of horizons for the human race. With a twitch of its instruments, the space probe has signalled its clearance of the heliopause. In layman’s terms, it has left our solar system – the first human-made object to do so.
What comes next? Largely nothing. After 36 years of nuclear-powered travel, Voyager 1 is some 11,650 million miles from the Sun. But it will be another 400 centuries before it approaches another star. And even then, its alien-introduction pack – including Beethoven, birdsong, and a message from President Carter – is unlikely to be of use. The environs of Gliese 445 are not thought conducive to any life, intelligent or otherwise.
There will be insights galore along the way, however. Or at least until transmissions finally conk out, perhaps in 2025. For another decade-plus, then, a clunky old probe with less memory than a smartphone will be taking us boldly where no one has gone before. Meanwhile, for those back on Earth who long to “get away from it all”, the challenge just got unimaginably harder.