Will Pioneer 10 Ever Phone Home or Return with Some Friends?
June 13, 2010

The Close-Up Picture Taker of Jupiter Not Only Left the Building, it left the Solar System

Pioneer 10 Says Good-Bye To Earth With Nixon in the White House

On This Date in History:  When the space probe, Pioneer 10, was launched by NASA from Cape Canaveral on March 3, 1972 its primary mission was to encounter Jupiter in December 1973.  Pioneer 10 met the challenge of its mission as earthlings stood spellbound watching the images sent back from the tiny spacecraft.  For the first time, from up close, people were able to see the “Great Red Spot” that had fascinated and perplexed earthbound observers since it was first observed.    It was during the encounter between the mosquito Pioneer 10 and the Giant Jupiter that it was confirmed that the mammoth planet consisted of liquid hydrogen without a solid surface below the thick clouds that envelop it.

Pioneer 10 Kept Going and Going

In reaching Jupiter, Pioneer 10 also proved that it was possible for a spacecraft to navigate through the asteroid belt as on July 15, 1972 it was the first man-made satellite known to do so.  Pioneer 10 also answered the question as to whether a spacecraft could handle the powerful radiation belts of Jupiter.  Pioneer 10 truly lived up to its moniker as when it got done with its Jupiter observations, it just kept on going.  It became the first spacecraft to cross the orbits of Uranus, Pluto and Neptune.  On this date in 1983,  over 11 years since it first left the earth, Pioneer 10  left the solar system using a first ever used nuclear power plant.  

NOMAD Thought that Kirk was the Creator

Now, Pioneer 10 was not alone.   Its twin, Pioneer 11 was launched about a year after Pioneer 10 shoved off from earth.  Pioneer 11 got the first close up views of Saturn and its rings, unlocking more centuries old mysteries.    The two Pioneer spacecraft paved the way for the more sophisticated Voyager probes 4 years later.  The Voyager probe became the premise for the original Star Trek movie, but that too had been more or less an expansion of a story told during the original series.  (Remember the one with “NOMAD”  the wayward 20th century probe that was looking for the creator?) 

Pioneer 10 plaque designed by Frank Drake Carl Sagan and Jon Lomberg. I'm Not Sure How Any Alien Could Make Sense of It.

When men first landed on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left behind a plaque with a greeting from President Nixon in which he said “we came in peace for all mankind.”  I think that there were also some symbols or maps or something, just in case any aliens couldn’t read english.  Well, America felt like it had to say something in the event that their little probe might wander into the hands of someone else so on both Pioneers, there is a plaque. In fact, most human probes into space have plaques.   The two on the Pioneer spacecrafts are but 6 inches by 9 inches and each plaque is designed to show any intelligent life that may come upon them where they came from and who sent them.  There is a diagram of a man and woman along with some basic scientific symbols along with a  diagram of the solar system.  Never mind that the vast majority of the humans living on the earth could probably not recognize the solar system and certainly not the scientific symbols, any space men might think that we’re all that smart.  Scientists have noted that the plaques represent a “mark of humanity that might survive…the Solar System itself.”    One thing that they don’t say is that one of the Pioneers just might fall into the hands of someone who can decide that there is a pretty primitive civilization out there that is easily invaded and is so dumb that it provided an road map related to how to invade it.  If you look at the diagram, then you see how really far fetched it is because it seems pretty random to me, but then again, presumably, an alien would have a little more going on.  Either way anyone who finds Pioneer 10 would have a long way to come to bring it home.  The last signal received from Pioneer 10 was on January 22, 2003 or 30 years after it was launched. I think the American taxpayer got its money’s worth on a gizmo that was only supposed to last 21 months.  At last contact, Pioneer 10 was 7.6 billion miles from earth and it took over 11 hours for the faint radio signal traveling at the speed of light to reach the earthbound listeners. 

Who Knows Who May Bring Back Pioneer 10. They'd have to Be pretty advanced to figure out the schematic invented by Carl Sagan

Maybe far fetched but, how different is it really to the American Indians.  Here they were  minding their own business when from across the ocean comes some beings that look similar but different from them.  They have tools and machines that they did  not have and they just kept coming and coming from somewhere.  Would not natives of any particular region of the world look at exploring or invading Europeans much in the same way that we would view aliens from another world?  After all, even the Europeans called North America “the New World” even though it wasn’t new to the Indians.  In any event, wherever Pioneer 10 is today, 27 years after it left our Solar System, it is well beyond the imagination of those who struggled in covered wagons across the continent in the 19th century.  In fact, if you think about it, the frontier of the United States was considered closed in 1890 and  just 93 years later, man had left the Solar System.  Perhaps this is symbolic of a society whose technology is developing faster than its humanity.

NAM Called for Over 1.5" of rain from 8P to 2AM Saturday Night..It Was WRONG!!

Weather Bottom Line:  This weekend is a great example of why one should not get too married to a particular model or make grand pronouncements.  I had explained all of the caveats related to the forecast and the various solutions of the models.  I had said that there would be disturbances coming through the flow from time to time but that the timing and exact track of each would be tough.  I had guessed that late Saturday night and early Sunday morning was the best chance for heavy rain with a secondary chance early Saturday morning.  I left myself a lot of wiggle room.  Well, I saw on local TV the station that is supposedly “rated most accurate” on Friday.  The guy then had a grand pronouncement of “Local Flooding” for Saturday.   Not a percent chance or heavy rain but, “Local Flooding.”  I told Snow White that was not very wise as it was possible, but not necessarily probable and that was an awfully long limb to be on. If he was right, he’s a hero, if he’s wrong (which was the most likely scenario) then he’d look like a goat and people would definitely remember it.  In TV y0u’re usually doing well if your mistakes are not highlighted.  Even in my scenario of heavy rain on late Saturday night, the wettest models were only throwing out 1.5 to 2 inches of rain over 6 hours and I don’t think that would cause “local flooding.”  Beside that, it was possible that the main storm track would be to our North.  Some of the models did have that.  Another thing that bothered me about the forecast that I saw was the depiction of a low sitting right in the middle of a high pressure ridge.  Made no sense…but then again I had the sound turned down so maybe the error was pointed out or there was some other explanation…a supposed upper low, perhaps? I dunno.  Twas confusing to me.

SPC Severe Outllook Monday-It's obvious where the expected storm track resides

Anyway, on Friday night, the lead shortwave was mainly to our North with an appendage sticking down bringing some pretty decent rain across the area.  As I had suspected, when that guy got farther east, the sun was coming up and it got pretty rough in Eastern Kentucky and Western Virginia.  We were in the wake of that one which would provide subsidence or sinking air behind it and therefore it would  be tough for afternoon heating to overcome that resistance.  Nevertheless, Snow White was at a wedding and reported that they saw someone on in the afternoon saying that storms would be prevalent until 5 pm.  I told the brides father that if we got anything it would be well after 5 pm and to go ahead and take the photos out side. 

SPC Monday Severe Weather Probability

I believe what we have is a couple of folks looking at computers and not bothering to look and see what is really happening or not having the ability to know what is going on.  In this case, the computers were wrong.  It was not a bad forecast to call for a healthy chance for t’storms or rain Saturday evening or Saturday night.  It was wrong headed to call for “Local Flooding” 24 hours before anything ever happened.  That’s either sensationalism, ignorance or foolishness.  By Saturday afternoon, it was apparent that there was not going to be much in the way of storms in the region beyond isolated activity.  Again, its either foolish, ignorant or attempts to scare people to continue give a forecast based on what a computer said it was supposed to do instead of looking out the window and seeing what is really going on.  As it turns out, about 11pm on Saturday night…our big shortwave did come across the Ohio Valley…trouble was it was farther north, taking an Indy-Cincy route and any appendage sticking down faded out before it got to Louisville.  So, as I had feared, the models were right about the upper disturbance and even the timing, but the exact route was off by about 90 miles, which isn’t too bad given that the earth is 25000 miles around. 

Tuesday SPC Severe Outlook

So, what the hell does this have to do with anything?  We will stay in this pattern which is unsettled.  There will continue to be a trof out west that will be kicking out small pieces of energy from time to time and it will continue to be tough to know exactly where and when these guys will be tracking until they actually show themselves.  It will continue to be hot and humid.  Therefore, it will continue to be a situation in which we are just loaded with energy.  If we get a good spark in here under the right conditions, and we could see some rough weather.  But, with nothing real specific to hang your hat on, its pretty tough to give anything of reasonable certainty.  I can say that it will be unstable, hot and humid and each day there will be a risk of t’storms at least through Wednesday.  I would say that, if we do get storms in the afternoon or early evening, stay tuned to local tv or radio because there would be a fair chance of any afternoon/evening storms being trouble maker.