What hears a whisper a billion miles away?
What do you think is . . .
Wittier than a wiley wizard?
More powerful than an apatosaurus?
Able to sweep across the whole sky without a sound?
It's Super Space Place Girl!
Her powers are awesome! But not as awesome as what ordinary humans have invented to solve a big problem of space exploration:
How do we communicate with the tiny spacecraft we send to explore deep, dark space and strange other worlds?
The answer is . . . (drum roll here, please) the
The enormous antennas of the Deep Space Network are so sensitive they can hear what amounts to a tiny whisper from millions, or even billions, of miles away.
Carried on this tiny whisper from the spacecraft explorers are beautiful images of planets, moons, asteroids, and comets.
The spacecraft transmitter that sends the signal to Earth is about as powerful as the light bulb in your refrigerator. By the time it reaches Earth, the spacecraft signal delivers only 0.000000000000000003 watts of power to the 70-meter antenna. But the antenna can still detect it!
It is very hard to imagine how weak that signal is. The chart below may help.
If you could collect and store all the energy the antenna receives from the spacecraft, you'd have to do it for time in the first column (400 years, for example) to have enough energy to light a standard 4-watt Christmas tree bulb for the time shown in the second column (a 100-millionth of a second!).
|Store the Signal for
||To Light a Bulb for
|400 years||1 100-millionth of a second|
|40,000 years||1 millionth of a second|
|For as long as it has been since the dinosaurs became extinct||Less than 2 thousandths of a second|
|For as long as Earth has existed||1/10 second (this is how long the bulb at the right is staying on)|