cap:voyager*

I stirred at last from a deep, contented stupor, lifting my hand to lay it over the spot where his pulse beat slow and strong, just at the base of his breastbone.

“It’s like bicycle riding, I expect,” I said. My head rested peacefully in the curve of his shoulder, my hand idly playing with the red-gold curls that sprang up in thickets across his chest. “Did you know you’ve got lots more hairs on your chest than you used to?” 

“No,” he said drowsily, “I dinna usually count them. Have bye-sickles got lots of hair, then?” 

It caught me by surprise, and I laughed. 

“No,” I said. “I just meant that we seemed to recall what to do all right.” 

Jamie opened one eye and looked down at me consideringly. “It would take a real daftie to forget that, Sassenach,” he said. “I may be lacking practice, but I havena lost all my faculties yet.” 

We were still for a long time, aware of each other’s breathing, sensitive to each small twitch and shifting of position. We fitted well together, my head curled into the hollow of his shoulder, the territory of his body warm under my hand, both strange and familiar, awaiting rediscovery. 

The building was a solid one, and the sound of the storm outside drowned most noises from within, but now and then the sounds of feet or voices were dimly audible below us; a low, masculine laugh, or the higher voice of a woman, raised in professional flirtation. 

Hearing it, Jamie stirred a little uncomfortably. 

“I should maybe have taken ye to a tavern,” he said. “It’s only—” 

“It’s all right,” I assured him. “Though I must say, of all the places I’d imagined being with you again, I somehow never thought of a brothel.” I hesitated, not wanting to pry, but curiosity got the best of me. “You … er … don’t own this place, do you, Jamie?” 

He pulled back a little, staring down at me. 

“Me? God in heaven, Sassenach, what d’ye think I am?” 

“Well, I don’t know, do I?” I pointed out, with some asperity. “The first thing you do when I find you is faint, and as soon as I’ve got you back on your feet, you get me assaulted in a pub and chased through Edinburgh in company with a deviant Chinese, ending up in a brothel—whose madam seems to be on awfully familiar terms with you, I might add.” The tips of his ears had gone pink, and he seemed to be struggling between laughter and indignation. 

“You then take off your clothes, announce that you’re a terrible person with a depraved past, and take me to bed. What did you expect me to think?” 

Laughter won out. 

“Well, I’m no a saint, Sassenach,” he said. “But I’m no a pimp, either.” 

“Glad to hear it,” I said. There was a momentary pause, and then I said, “Do you mean to tell me what you are, or shall I go on running down the disreputable possibilities until I come close?” 

“Oh, aye?” he said, entertained by this suggestion. “What’s your best guess?” 

I looked him over carefully. He lay at ease amid the tumbled sheets, one arm behind his head, grinning at me. 

“Well, I’d bet my shift you’re not a printer,” I said. 

The grin widened. 

“Why not?” 

I poked him rudely in the ribs. “You’re much too fit. Most men in their forties have begun to go soft round the middle, and you haven’t a spare ounce on you.” 

“That’s mostly because I havena got anyone to cook for me,” he said ruefully. “If you ate in taverns all the time, ye wouldna be fat, either. Luckily, it looks as though ye eat regularly.” He patted my bottom familiarly, and then ducked, laughing, as I slapped at his hand. 

“Don’t try to distract me,” I said, resuming my dignity. “At any rate, you didn’t get muscles like that slaving over a printing press.” 

“Ever tried to work one, Sassenach?” He raised a derisive eyebrow. 

“No.” I furrowed my brow in thought. “I don’t suppose you’ve taken up highway robbery?” 

“No,” he said, the grin widening. “Guess again.” 

“Embezzlement.” 

“No.” 

“Well, likely not kidnapping for ransom,” I said, and began to tick other possibilities off on my fingers. “Petty thievery? No. Piracy? No, you couldn’t possibly, unless you’ve got over being seasick. Usury? Hardly.” I dropped my hand and stared at him. 

“You were a traitor when I last knew you, but that scarcely seems a good way of making a living.” 

“Oh, I’m still a traitor,” he assured me. “I just havena been convicted lately.” 

Lately?” 

“I spent several years in prison for treason, Sassenach,” he said, rather grimly. “For the Rising. But that was some time back.” 

“Yes, I knew that.” His eyes widened. 

“Ye knew that?” 

“That and a bit more,” I said. “I’ll tell you later. But putting that all aside for the present and returning to the point at issue—what do you do for a living these days?” 

“I’m a printer,” he said, grinning widely. 

And a traitor?” 

“And a traitor,” he confirmed, nodding. “I’ve been arrested for sedition six times in the last two years, and had my premises seized twice, but the court wasna able to prove anything.” 

“And what happens to you if they do prove it, one of these times?” 

“Oh,” he said airily, waving his free hand in the air, “the pillory. Earnailing. Flogging. Imprisonment. Transportation. That sort of thing. Likely not hanging.” 

“What a relief,” I said dryly. I felt a trifle hollow. I hadn’t even tried to imagine what his life might be like, if I found him. Now that I had, I was a little taken aback. 

“I did warn ye,” he said. The teasing was gone now, and the dark blue eyes were serious and watchful. 

“You did,” I said, and took a deep breath. 

“Do ye want to leave now?” He spoke casually enough, but I saw his fingers clench and tighten on a fold of the quilt, so that the knuckles stood out white against the sunbronzed skin. 

“No,” I said. I smiled at him, as best I could manage. “I didn’t come back just to make love with you once. I came to be with you—if you’ll have me,” I ended, a little hesitantly. 

“If I’ll have you!” He let out the breath he had been holding, and sat up to face me, cross-legged on the bed. He reached out and took my hands, engulfing them between his own. 

“I—canna even say what I felt when I touched you today, Sassenach, and knew ye to be real,” he said. His eyes traveled over me, and I felt the heat of him, yearning, and my own heat, melting toward him. “To find you again—and then to lose ye …” He stopped, throat working as he swallowed. 

I touched his face, tracing the fine, clean line of cheekbone and jaw. 

“You won’t lose me,” I said. “Not ever again.” I smiled, smoothing back the thick ruff of ruddy hair behind his ear. “Not even if I find out you’ve been committing bigamy and public drunkenness.”

CRAIGH NA DUN

The early morning air was cold and misty, and I was glad of the cloak. It had been twenty years since I’d worn one, but with the sorts of things people wore nowadays, the Inverness tailor who’d made it for me had not found an order for a woolen cloak with a hood at all odd.

I kept my eyes on the path. The crest of the hill had been invisible, wreathed in mist, when the car had left me on the road below.

“Here?” the driver had said, peering dubiously out of his window at the deserted countryside. “Sure, mum?”

“Yes,” I’d said, half-choked with terror. “This is the place.”

“Aye?” He looked dubious, in spite of the large note I put in his hand. “D’ye want me to wait, mum? Or to come later, to fetch ye back?”

I was sorely tempted to say yes. After all, what if I lost my nerve? At the moment, my grip on that slippery substance seemed remarkably feeble.

“No,” I said, swallowing. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

If I couldn’t do it, I would just have to walk back to Inverness, that was all. Or perhaps Roger and Brianna would come; I thought that would be worse, to be ignominiously retrieved. Or would it be a relief?

The granite pebbles rolled beneath my feet and a clod of dirt fell in a small rushing shower, dislodged by my passage. I couldn’t possibly really be doing this, I thought. The weight of the money in my reinforced pocket swung against my thigh, the heavy certainty of gold and silver a reminder of reality. I was doing it.

I couldn’t. Thoughts of Bree as I had seen her late last night, peacefully asleep in her bed, assaulted me. The tendrils of remembered horror reached out from the hilltop above, as I began to sense the nearness of the stones. Screaming, chaos, the feeling of being torn in pieces. I couldn’t.

I couldn’t, but I kept on climbing, palms sweating, my feet moving as though no longer under my control.

It was full dawn by the time I reached the top of the hill. The mist lay below, and the stones stood clear and dark against a crystal sky. The sight of them left me wet-palmed with apprehension, but I walked forward, and passed into the circle.

I took one step, and then another. I heard a sound, a faint roaring. I took the last step, and the world disappeared.

I turned and darted up the slope

of the Royal Mile, moving as quickly as my voluminous skirts would allow, jostling and bumping my way through the crowd. I had had the luck to pick a market day for my arrival, and I was soon lost to sight from the coachyard among the luckenbooths and oyster sellers who lined the street.

Panting like an escaped pickpocket, I stopped for breath halfway up the hill. There was a public fountain here, and I sat down on the rim to catch my breath.

I was here. Really here. Edinburgh sloped up behind me, to the glowering heights of Edinburgh Castle, and down before me, to the gracious majesty of Holyrood Palace at the foot of the city.

The last time I had stood by this fountain, Bonnie Prince Charlie had been addressing the gathered citizenry of Edinburgh, inspiring them with the sight of his royal presence. He had bounded exuberantly from the rim to the carved center finial of the fountain, one foot in the basin, clinging to one of the spouting heads for support, shouting “On to England!” The crowd had roared, pleased at this show of youthful high spirits and athletic prowess. I would myself have been more impressed had I not noticed that the water in the fountain had been turned off in anticipation of the gesture.

I wondered where Charlie was now. He had gone back to Italy after Culloden, I supposed, there to live whatever life was possible for royalty in permanent exile. What he was doing, I neither knew nor cared. He had passed from the pages of history, and from my life as well, leaving wreck and ruin in his wake. It remained to be seen what might be salvaged now.

I was very hungry; I had had nothing to eat since a hasty breakfast of rough parritch and boiled mutton, made soon after dawn at a posthouse in Dundaff. I had one last sandwich remaining in my pocket, but had been reluctant to eat it in the coach, under the curious gaze of my fellow travelers.

I pulled it out and carefully unwrapped it. Peanut butter and jelly on white bread, it was considerably the worse for wear, with the purple stains of the jelly seeping through the limp bread, and the whole thing mashed into a flattened wodge. It was delicious.

I ate it carefully, savoring the rich, oily taste of the peanut butter. How many mornings had I slathered peanut butter on bread, making sandwiches for Brianna’s school lunches? Firmly suppressing the thought, I examined the passersby for distraction. They did look somewhat different from their modern equivalents; both men and women tended to be shorter, and the signs of poor nutrition were evident. Still, there was an overwhelming familiarity to them—these were people I knew, Scots and English for the most part, and hearing the rich burring babble of voices in the street, after so many years of the flat nasal tones of Boston, I had quite an extraordinary feeling of coming home.

I swallowed the last rich, sweet bite of my old life, and crumpled the wrapper in my hand. I glanced around, but no one was looking in my direction. I opened my hand, and let the bit of plastic film fall surreptitiously to the ground. Wadded up, it rolled a few inches on the cobbles, crinkling and unfolding itself as though alive. The light wind caught it, and the small transparent sheet took sudden wing, scudding over the gray stones like a leaf.

The draft of a set of passing wheels sucked it under a drayman’s cart; it winked once with reflected light, and was gone, disappearing without notice from the passersby. I wondered whether my own anachronistic presence would cause as little harm.

“You are dithering, Beauchamp,” I said to myself. “Time to get on.” I took a deep breath and stood up.

“Excuse me,” I said, catching the sleeve of a passing baker’s boy. “I’m looking for a printer—a Mr. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm.” A feeling of mingled dread and excitement gurgled through my middle. What if there was no printshop run by Alexander Malcolm in Edinburgh?

There was, though; the boy’s face screwed up in thought and then relaxed.

“Oh, aye, mum—just down the way and to your left. Carfax Close.” And hitching his loaves up under his arm with a nod, he plunged back into the crowded street.

Carfax Close. I edged my way back into the crowd, pressing close to the buildings, to avoid the occasional shower of slops that splattered into the street from the windows high above. There were several thousand people in Edinburgh, and the sewage from all of them was running down the gutters of the cobbled street, depending on gravity and the frequent rain to keep the city habitable.

The low, dark opening to Carfax Close yawned just ahead, across the expanse of the Royal Mile. I stopped dead, looking at it, my heart beating hard enough to be heard a yard away, had anyone been listening.

It wasn’t raining, but was just about to, and the dampness in the air made my hair curl. I pushed it off my forehead, tidying it as best I could without a mirror. Then I caught sight of a large plate-glass window up ahead, and hurried forward.

The glass was misty with condensation, but provided a dim reflection, in which my face looked flushed and wide-eyed, but otherwise presentable. My hair, however, had seized the opportunity to curl madly in all directions, and was writhing out of its hairpins in excellent imitation of Medusa’s locks. I yanked the pins out impatiently, and began to twist up my curls.

The twin Voyager spacecraft, which launched in 1977, are our ambassadors to the rest of the Milky Way, destined to continue orbiting the center of our galaxy for billions of years after they stop communicating with Earth. On Aug. 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, and Voyager 2 is expected to cross over in the next few years. At age 40, the Voyagers are the farthest and longest-operating spacecraft and still have plenty more to discover. This poster captures the spirit of exploration, the vastness of space and the wonder that has fueled this ambitious journey to the outer planets and beyond.

Enjoy this and other Voyager anniversary posters. Download them for free here: https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/downloads/

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Voyager: The Space Between

Our Voyager 1 spacecraft officially became the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space in 2012. 

Whether and when our Voyager 1 spacecraft broke through to interstellar space, the space between stars, has been a thorny issue. 

In 2012, claims surfaced every few months that Voyager 1 had “left our solar system.” Why had the Voyager team held off from saying the craft reached interstellar space until 2013?

Basically, the team needed more data on plasma, which is an ionozied gas that exists throughout space. (The glob of neon in a storefront sign is an example of plasma).

Plasma is the most important marker that distinguishes whether Voyager 1 is inside the solar bubble, known as the heliosphere.  The heliosphere is defined by the constant stream of plasma that flows outward from our Sun – until it meets the boundary of interstellar space, which contains plasma from other sources.

Adding to the challenge: they didn’t know how they’d be able to detect it.

No one has been to interstellar space before, so it’s  like traveling with guidebooks that are incomplete.

Additionally, Voyager 1’s plasma instrument, which measures the density, temperature and speed of plasma, stopped working in 1980, right after its last planetary flyby.

When Voyager 1 detected the pressure of interstellar space on our heliosphere in 2004, the science team didn’t have the instrument that would provide the most direct measurements of plasma. 

Voyager 1 Trajectory

Instead, they focused on the direction of the magnetic field as a proxy for source of the plasma. Since solar plasma carries the magnetic field lines emanating from the Sun and interstellar plasma carries interstellar magnetic field lines, the directions of the solar and interstellar magnetic fields were expected to differ.

Voyager 2 Trajectory

In May 2012, the number of galactic cosmic rays made its first significant jump, while some of the inside particles made their first significant dip. The pace of change quickened dramatically on July 28, 2012. After five days, the intensities returned to what they had been. This was the first taste test of a new region, and at the time Voyager scientists thought the spacecraft might have briefly touched the edge of interstellar space.

By Aug. 25, when, as we now know, Voyager 1 entered this new region for good, all the lower-energy particles from inside zipped away. Some inside particles dropped by more than a factor of 1,000 compared to 2004. However, subsequent analysis of the magnetic field data revealed that even though the magnetic field strength jumped by 60% at the boundary, the direction changed less than 2 degrees. This suggested that Voyager 1 had not left the solar magnetic field and had only entered a new region, still inside our solar bubble, that had been depleted of inside particles.

Then, in April 2013, scientists got another piece of the puzzle by chance. For the first eight years of exploring the heliosheath, which is the outer layer of the heliosphere, Voyager’s plasma wave instrument had heard nothing. But the plasma wave science team had observed bursts of radio waves in 1983 and 1984 and again in 1992 and 1993. They determined these bursts were produced by the interstellar plasma when a large outburst of solar material would plow into it and cause it to oscillate.

It took about 400 days for such solar outbursts to reach interstellar space, leading to an estimated distance of 117 to 177 AU (117 to 177 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth) to the heliopause.

Then on April 9, 2013, it happened: Voyager 1’s plasma wave instrument picked up local plasma oscillations. Scientists think they probably stemmed from a burst of solar activity from a year before. The oscillations increased in pitch through May 22 and indicated that Voyager was moving into an increasingly dense region of plasma.

The above soundtrack reproduces the amplitude and frequency of the plasma waves as “heard” by Voyager 1. The waves detected by the instrument antennas can be simply amplified and played through a speaker. These frequencies are within the range heard by human ears.

When they extrapolated back, they deduced that Voyager had first encountered this dense interstellar plasma in Aug. 2012, consistent with the sharp boundaries in the charged particle and magnetic field data on Aug. 25.

In the end, there was general agreement that Voyager 1 was indeed outside in interstellar space, but that location comes with some disclaimers. They determined the spacecraft is in a mixed transitional region of interstellar space. We don’t know when it will reach interstellar space free from the influence of our solar bubble.

Voyager 1, which is working with a finite power supply, has enough electrical power to keep operating the fields and particles science instruments through at least 2020, which will make 43 years of continual operation.

Voyager 1 will continue sending engineering data for a few more years after the last science instrument is turned off, but after that it will be sailing on as a silent ambassador. 

In about 40,000 years, it will be closer to the star AC +79 3888 than our own Sun.

And for the rest of time, Voyager 1 will continue orbiting around the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, with our Sun but a tiny point of light among many.

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