Communications troubles with space probe Voyager 2 - a vessel containing "we are here" messages for aliens - inspired speculation that ET had commandeered the vessel. But NASA calls it a technical glitch. Today is the moment of truth.
The furor began last month when the probe, which sends back regular updates to Earth, began spurting nonsense data that seemed to contain some kind of pattern. Was it an alien message? NASA engineers suspected a failure in the flight data system, but a German "alien expert" claimed otherwise. Hautwig Hausdorf told German newspaper Bild:
It seems almost as if someone has reprogrammed or hijacked the probe – thus perhaps we do not yet know the whole truth.
Today we should be able to verify that the problem was not extraterrestrial in origin, as NASA tests a fix for the technical glitch.
In an announcement posted earlier this week, NASA explained:
One flip of a bit in the memory of an onboard computer appears to have caused the change in the science data pattern returning from Voyager 2, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday, May 17. A value in a single memory location was changed from a 0 to a 1.
On May 12, engineers received a full memory readout from the flight data system computer, which formats the data to send back to Earth. They isolated the one bit in the memory that had changed, and they recreated the effect on a computer at JPL. They found the effect agrees with data coming down from the spacecraft. They are planning to reset the bit to its normal state on Wednesday, May 19.
Cosmic rays, which are abundant in space, could easily have flipped a bit in Voyager 2's computer. Of course if today's test doesn't fix the problem, I'm still not convinced that super-advanced alien civilizations would try to communicate by sending poorly-formatted data through our crappy space probe.