Destination Aquila

StarDate: September 11, 2009

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The star known as Lambda Aquilae isn't all that remarkable. It's bigger, heavier, and hotter than the Sun, but it's still not one of the galaxy's standouts. Even so, it's worth a mention, because an emissary from Earth is heading toward the star.

Pioneer 11 was launched in 1973. It was the second craft to fly close to Jupiter, and the first to fly close to Saturn. Now it's flying out of the solar system, toward Lambda Aquilae. It'll pass the star in about four million years.

Lamba Aquilae is 125 light-years away. As Pioneer crosses that great distance, it'll be battered by grains of dust that'll grind its surface like sandpaper, and zapped by cosmic rays and other radiation.

Even if Pioneer 11 survives the journey, and even if anyone lives at Lambda Aquilae, the craft is likely to pass through unnoticed. It exhausted its power supply a decade ago, so it's just a cold lump of metal.

But just in case anyone does find Pioneer 11, it carries a message from home: a small plaque with information about the craft and its makers. It contains an outline of Pioneer itself, for example, with a man and woman standing beside it. It also contains a diagram of our solar system and information about the solar system's location. It's a greeting to the galaxy from the people who made Pioneer 11.

Lambda Aquilae is high in the south at nightfall. It's to the lower right of Altair, the southeastern point of the bright Summer Triangle.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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