Artwork showing Pioneer 10 in space.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA
Pioneer 10 falls silent
News story originally written on March 7, 2003
NASA scientists were unable to detect a signal from Pioneer 10
when they tried to contact the spacecraft on February 7, 2003. They believe Pioneer 10's power supply
doesn't produce enough energy anymore to power the spacecraft's radio.
The last signal received, on January 22, was very weak.
Pioneer 10 was launched from Earth in 1972. It was the first spacecraft to pass through the
asteroid belt, and the first to visit
Jupiter and take close-up pictures of the largest planet
in our Solar System. Pioneer 10 was supposed to last long enough for a 21-month mission.
As it turned out, the spacecraft sent signals back to Earth for more than 30 years!
The last signal from Pioneer 10 came from more than 12 billion kilometers
(7.6 billion miles, or 82 AU) away. At that distance,
radio signals from Pioneer 10, traveling at the speed of light, took more than 11 hours to reach Earth.
The spacecraft is headed out of our Solar System; it passed the orbit of Pluto in 1983.
It is going in the general direction of the star Aldebaran
in the constellation Taurus.
Pioneer 10 will reach Aldebaran, which is 68 light-years
away, in about 2 million years. The spacecraft carries a gold plaque
with information about Earth; just in case "somebody out there" finds it!
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