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Flipping the bit

May 24, 2010

A little science story that (mostly) flew under the radar the past week was the saga of Voyager 2, the which a month ago began to deliver garbled data. V2 was launched in 1977, and it’s primary mission ended in 1989, so it doesn’t get too much press attention these days. But it’s still travelling (through the heliosheath), sending back data, and it even has its own Twitter feed.

Inevitably, a few news sources found an ‘expert’ who theorized that Voyager 2 had been hijacked by aliens. Instead, it turned out to be a flipped bit – a single bit of memory changed from a 0 to a 1. I don’t really know how that happens, but anyways, it’s been fixed, and hopefully Voyager 2 will keep sending us data from the great beyond.

However, it seems to me that popular culture is missing out on a potentially great new catchphrase – “flipping the bit”. It could be used to describe a sudden nonsensical outburst. Possible headlines:

– J.P. Ricciardi really flipped the bit when he was asked about Adam Dunn on the radio

– Serena Williams flipped the bit at the U.S Open this afternoon

– Moammar Gadhafi flipped the bit at the United Nations yesterday

– Kanye West flipped the bit at the VMAs last night

I think it could catch on – it rolls off the tongue pretty nicely. And it’s a reminder that 33-year-old science missions still have something to offer (and, sadly, are still a lot more interesting than the space shuttle, which is quietly fading to black).

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