NASA is trying to contact Pioneer 10, a spacecraft it launched 29 years ago, which is now 7 billion miles away. The satellite hasn’t been heard from since August and may be gone for good, its signal too far out of range to reach Earth.

“We are certainly challenging the network in trying to literally pick a bit of signal out of the noise,” said Robert Ryan of NASA. “It’s a combination of nostalgia and an engineering exercise to see how well we can do it.” They have been trying to contact it using the world’s largest radio antenna, the 1,000 foot dish at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. NASA has been transmitting signals to the spacecraft which take 21 hours and 20 minutes to make a round trip, trying to get it to “reply.”

Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to get close-up pictures of Jupiter and is the first man-made object to leave our solar system. It is now 7.2 billion miles from Earth, carrying a plaque engraved with a message of goodwill and a map showing the Earth’s location. If we can’t hear its signals anymore, hopefully someone else can.

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