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Not So Fast: Why The Pioneer Spacecraft Lost the Race to Voyager 1 in Leaving the Solar System

In late 2013, I wrote this short (293-word) article about the spacecraft Voyager 1 becoming the first man-made object to leave our Solar System. The This piece places the accomplishment in the context of Voyager winning a race against its predecessors, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11. I consulted the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's 2012 study on an effect called "The Pioneer Anomaly," which explained what forces were acting on the Pioneer probes as they traveled deeper into space. The idea was that thermal energy emitted from the probe caused it to slow down over time, but the other factor was that Pioneer spun through space as it traveled, while Voyager was more steady because it had onboard thrusters in its payload to keep it pointed at Earth. The thrusters allowed Voyager to cover more distance, and eventually it overtook the Pioneer probes to the reach solar system's edge. The information was accommodated for an audience interested in space exploration, reading the science articles in a major newspaper.

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