Princeton astrophysicist Jamie Rankin leading NASA team tracking Voyager

Princeton astrophysicist Jamie Rankin is playing a leading role on NASA's Voyager team

Jamie Rankin, Associate Research Scientist and Instructor of the Space Physics Laboratory class has been named the deputy project scientist for the Voyager Mission. 

At 34 years old she is one of the youngest to hold such a title. 

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 passed the outer planets of the solar system and in 2012 and 2018 crossed the heliopause, the bubble of space around our sun.

Now traveling through interstellar space at a million miles per day, each of the space probes is more than 10 billion miles from Earth.

While working on her Ph.D. at Caltech, Rankin was the last graduate student of Ed Stone who was the Project Scientist for Voyager. 

“I did the first thesis on Voyager’s data from interstellar space,” Rankin said. “I arrived at Caltech six days after Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, so I got to see that whole history unfold. I entered in thinking about Voyager completely from the interstellar perspective, which was very different than anybody else on the Voyager team, most of whom have been with the mission since the beginning.”

While the launches were 45 years ago and Voyager 1 and 2 are billions of miles away, the instruments on board are still sending information to Earth. 

“Voyager allows us, for the first time, to look at our own star and our own planetary system from the outside,” Rankin said.

In many ways, the Voyager twins are time capsules of their era. They both carry an eight-track tape player for recording data, they have 3 million times less memory than modern cellphones, and they transmit data about 40,000 times slower than a 5G internet connection. They both have a Golden Record: a message from humanity to the cosmos with greetings in 55 languages, pictures of people and places on Earth, and music ranging from Beethoven to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

This 2018 video, made 41 years after NASA’s Voyager probes launched into space, was created to explain the significance of Voyager 2 leaving our solar bubble and entering the region between stars, an historic crossing its twin, Voyager 1, made in 2012.

In recent decades, the missions have made few headlines, but the little spacecraft have continued voyaging outward under the leadership of Project Scientist Ed Stone. Despite their now-archaic memory and transmission systems, the Voyagers remain on the cutting edge of space exploration as the only instruments to ever travel through interstellar space.

After Stone’s recent retirement, Linda Spilker, who has been involved with Voyager since 1977, stepped into Stone’s shoes, and Rankin was selected to be the Voyagers’ deputy project scientist.

At Princeton, Rankin has been using both Voyager and IBEX observations to investigate interactions between the heliosphere and the local interstellar medium, as well as analyzing PSP observations. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: