Why Did Voyager 1 Just Start Transmitting Gibberishes from Deep Space?

Harry Vanderspeigle (Alan Tudyk) is the titular extraterrestrial in the Resident Alien (streaming now on Peacock) and he is alone (with a couple of rare exceptions) on our planet. In the Season 2 episode of Radio Harry, he tries to send a message to his people, through a transmitter we know as the interstellar rock Oumuamua, telling them not to destroy humanity for 50 years . It would be nice to have a buffer of several decades between now and the annihilation, but calling it is better!

Speaking of strange signals to and from deep space, NASA scientists recently started receiving a bunch of binary gibberish from Voyager 1, and it’s unclear why.

Voyager 1 Fires Madness, and It Won’t Stop

We couldn’t stop a stray extraterrestrial message (maybe) but something strange happened; here’s what we know. Both Voyager spacecraft have three onboard computers known as the flight data system (FDS).

RELATED: ‘Oumuamua: Resident Alien’s radio receiver isn’t alien tech, but it’s pretty cool!

The FDS is responsible for gathering information from its respective instruments on scientific crafts along with health data about the craft itself. It then packages up all the information and sends that package to another system called a telemetry modulation unit (TMU), which sends it back to Earth. For unknown reasons, there was a handoff error.

Instead of the usual science and spacecraft data it normally sends, the TMU sends a repeating line of ones and zeros. That bit is not unusual, all the information sent back by Voyager 1 and 2 comes in binary form, it’s just that the binary content is meaningless. According to NASA, after ruling out other possibilities, the Voyager team determined that the source of the issue was the FDS. No word if the other possibilities include getting some weird alien nonsense on an extraterrestrial radio band or something.

Illustration of the Voyager spacecraft in deep space.

Illustration of Voyager in deep space. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team tried to restart the FDS by turning it off and back on which fixed most of the technology problems here on Earth but the problem persisted when the system was turned back on. The Voyager team continues to search for a solution, but not surprisingly the craft is showing its age.

Voyager 1 and 2 have been traveling through space at high speed since 1977. They visited the farthest reaches of our solar system and traveled beyond it. They are the longest-running spacecraft still in operation, in the history of space exploration, and they are increasingly conflated with the cosmic equivalent of duct tape, chewing gum, and hope.

RELATED: The Life and Ultimate Death of Voyager 1 and 2

Even Voyager’s radioactive heart was getting weaker and weaker every day. At Voyager 1’s great distance it cannot rely on energy from the Sun, so it uses the heat of decaying plutonium to power its systems. Even with a half-life of 88 years, the radioactive fuel has undergone significant decay over the past half-century and Voyager has lost much of its power output.

The Voyager team pulled out all the stops to get our interstellar buddy back up and running, but it was a tough job. The spacecraft was built by people who have long since retired and the current team cannot really ask for their help. There is also considerable light-speed lag between Voyager and Earth.

From its interstellar vantage point, it takes nearly a day for light to cross the distance. So, every time the team tries something, it’s a 45-hour round-trip wait for the signal to get there and a response to get back.

With any luck, the Voyager team will be able to nurse our oldest and most distant space robot back to health soon. And if there are foreigners who want to drop us a line, nothing is done.

Maybe they want to hang out and watch Resident Alien, streaming now on Peacock. We have popcorn.

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