Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hey, Voyager 1, LEAVE ALREADY

As much as I admire the work the Voyage 1 space probe has done, I think it’s about time it got out of the house. Or at least about time NASA stopped sending out press releases or answering questions about the probe’s imminent departure from the solar system until it actually departs.

For the past three years, we’ve been treated to stories like this, stories that, I’m sure, are 98 percent boiler plate because the details are the same and the news really isn’t all that new.

In’s latest installation, we don’t get to the meat of the update until the seventh paragraph, aside from a typically breathless quote from a California Institute of Technology scientist in Paragraph Two.

I’m thrilled Voyager 1 is still capable of sending information – sciencey stuff – since its launch in 1977, and I’m gobsmacked that scientists on Earth can still pick up its infinitely weak signal from more than 11 billion miles away. But it’s time for Voyager to leave the solar system so we can stop getting these breathless updates. Even NASA’s own reporting on the event buries the most important news (and proves that Voyager has another reason to leave the solar system – that terrible lens flare from the sun).

I guess what grouses my cookies is the reporting here, which wastes too much time reminding readers what this is all about – what Voyager is and such – rather than getting to the real news. And the eager scientists don’t help, either – they’ve been saying we’re near the edge of the solar system since 2009. I know we’re talking cosmic distances here, but I think they should be a little less eager to get the news out and more patient for the event to actually happen.

So, how would I report it?

Like this:

Steep increases in the number of cosmic rays hitting the 35-year-old Voyager 1 space probe indicate this wanderer from Earth may be at the edge of the solar system.

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have noted the number of cosmic rays --- high speed atomic and subatomic particles shot out of black holes and exploding stars at nearly the speed of light – have been hitting the probe in increasing numbers since January 2009. Spikes in the number of rays hitting the probe starting on May 7, 2012, however, indicate to scientists the probe may be at the edge of the heliosphere, the bubble of magnetism that surrounds the Sun.

Then you move on to the breathless blah-blah and the exposition that people who don't know or don't remember what Voyager 1 is need to fill in the blanks. This is called inverted pyramid writing, something they evidently don't teach or practice much at any more.

I guess I resent the blah blah since I already know this stuff. but even for folks who don't, they ought to have a quick reason to get interested in the story aside from the headline. Giving them the meat, then the boilerplate, is a lot better in my book.

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