Interstellar – it is a word that conjures up science fiction novels and blockbuster films. In astronomy terms, it means the space between stars. And, in late 2017, NASA scientists sent a message into that remote region. Some 13 billion miles out, far from the influence of the Sun, the space agency sent a series of instructions. And it got a reply.
Our universe is so vast it is beyond the average human being’s comprehension. Expert estimates put its size at roughly somewhere between a span of 150 and 550 billion light years across. To give an idea of scale, a light year is the distance light can travel during 12 months on Earth. And that expanse is represented by the sort of number that requires several checks to make sure all of the zeros are accounted for properly.
This is because a light year comes in at just under six trillion miles. On a cosmic scale then, sending a message 13 billion miles into space isn’t that impressive. What is impressive is what was out there waiting to receive the message. The signal’s recipient was an object which shows just how far the reach of humanity has stretched since the space age began.