Thursday, May 5, 2011

Explanation of Storm

I've been asked by someone who knows her way around the written word to publish the following explanation of a piece I wrote, titled, Faster Toward The Storm. She had been so complimentary of the explanation that I feel comfortable doing so. What follows is what I wrote to her in private, republished, now, for others.

It was a freeform poem written in the first-person by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is soon to pass through a space "storm" of a sort. Right now, it is one of the fastest human built craft and is the farthest human built object from the Earth. It is so extremely remote right now, that even if it travelled at the speed of light to get back here, it would take over 16 hours. That may not sound like a lot, but converted to miles, it's almost 11 billion miles away. As you can guess, I have a thing for space and space exploration!

Voyager 1 has a twin, Voyager 2, which is also heading out into interstellar space. It's only slightly closer to Earth. I enjoy thinking about just how far away and how extremely remote these probes are from anything. The remoteness is nearly absolute, in terms of location, temperature, light, and speed.

Imagine yourself, flying, as in a dream, not in an aircraft, just you, unimaginably fast, but having zero sensation of speed. No friction, so no wind. No sound can be made, felt, or heard in the total vacuum of space. If you screamed at the top of your lungs, you would hear nothing. There are no nearby visual points of reference, so nothing to gauge your speed by eyeballing it. Even what stars you can see don't move in the distance. They are stationary pinpoints of light. The Sun is just a tiny pinprick of light among them, very dim. But your are moving away from it, the only home you've ever known, at 38,000 mph, and you'll never slow down, turn back, or stop. You're beyond the orbit of Pluto, non-technically outside of the solar system.

But technically, you still have the Sun's influence on you, via the solar wind and the teensiest hint of gravity, therefore, are still in the Solar System. But not for long! Ahead of you, but completely unseen, is the bow shock of the heliopause, the end of the solar wind, which you will pass through to truly enter interstellar space and the ultimate in loneliness. That is the storm your are racing to meet. The charged particles of the solar wind that you were surfing on will have ceased, and the interstellar particles coming from the opposite direction will begin charging toward you. No one knows exactly what will happen when you travel through it (it's up to you to be the first to know), but if you maintain speed and direction, it will still have taken you years to get through the storm and come out on the other side. And then on to real isolation.

At that point, the darkness and loneliness you thought you felt before will seem like a day in Times Square compared to the incomprehensible Void that you have entered but can never leave. And all you will do is race, possibly faster, through it.

I like to imagine what it would be like to be in that place, at that speed, with nothing to reach out and touch. Every direction is up, and down, and sideways, all at the same time. You are always falling, forward, into darkness, in absolute cold and silence. It makes me shiver and feel totally insignificant. Sometimes I even get vertigo from it! Totally cool feeling, but also a bit frightening. Always good to "come back" from that feeling!

Bizarre, I know. But I don't care. It's awesome.

So, that's the long answer to my dinky little poem. If Voyager 1 could think and feel and talk to us, what would it say? Would it feel lonely? Every day, it faithfully sends us the weakest of radio signals to let us know what it is doing, where it is, and what it sees. And we answer back to let it know we hear it. But only barely hear it. Soon, we won't be able to any more, but it will continue sending us messages anyway, until it's tiny nuclear pellet runs out of power. Over the next few years, it will continue to shut down various systems in order to save energy, or because those systems are no longer needed. Then it will fall silent, but continue speeding forever through the Void.


  1. It's really unnerving how Voyager's story is anthropomorphic. It's lonely, and brave, and touching.

    Thanks for sharing this. And the poem you posted yesterday.

  2. @Nicole: Thanks. Really. Thank you.

    @dbs: As well, thank you. These last two blogs took effort to read, I'm sure, so I appreciate you doing it.

  3. I appreciate both the poem and the explanation--the latter sort of "colored in the lines," if you will.

  4. Thanks, Nicki. It was a tad on the esoteric side.