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Voyager 1 closes in on interstellar space


June 18, 2012

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft, which is set to become the first man-made obj...

Artist concept of NASA's Voyager spacecraft, which is set to become the first man-made object to leave our solar system (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Based on the latest data received from Voyager 1, scientists say the venerable spacecraft is now on the very edge of our solar system. The data, which traveled some 17.8 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) on its 16-hour-38 minute journey to NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth, reveals a marked increase in the intensity of charged particles from beyond our solar system, indicating that Voyager 1 is soon to become the first man-made object to leave our little slice of the universe.

It is still unknown when exactly the 34-year-old Voyager 1 spacecraft will cross over into interstellar space, but that moment is definitely fast approaching.

“The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly," says Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Ed Stone. "It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system's frontier."

Artist's concept showing NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of spa...

"From January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25 percent in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering," says Stone. "More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month."

The intensity of charged particles from beyond our solar system is just one of three measures scientists are keeping a close eye on to indicate Voyager 1’s breaking through the solar boundary. The second is the intensity of energetic particles generated inside the heliosphere, which has been in slow decline but has not dropped off drastically as is expected when Voyager enters interstellar space.

The third and final measure Voyager scientists are monitoring is the direction of the magnetic field lines surrounding the spacecraft. They expect that these field lines, which run east-west while Voyager is still within the heliosphere, will switch to a north-south orientation when Voyager crosses the interstellar boundary. The team is currently crunching the numbers of this data set, a task that is expected to take weeks.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

The best investment NASA and the US has ever made. This is facts backup with proof. Future generations will gain from this when we take the next big step and move on as we did on Earth.

One thing is for sure, if nothing happens in the centre to follow and we carry on developing our skills, humans will outlive this World and move into another when its time is up, this time chosen by us.

I doubt if it will ever be as good, who knows, this World could be look on as Heaven by future generations compare to what they have. They say nothing ends, everything goes around in circles forever.

18th June, 2012 @ 05:53 am PDT

It's fantastic tha not only is Voyager still alive and sending beck useful data after 34 years but that we can receive a very low power signal from 11 billion miles away!

Clay Jones
18th June, 2012 @ 11:45 am PDT

34 years to the edge, now that's pretty far out.

Richard Dicky Riddlebarger
18th June, 2012 @ 11:56 am PDT

This is AWESOME. Me thinks my cell phone is more complicated than this wee baby. What a trip. I recall 'The X Files' even gave it more than a mention. So we will soon know and have first hand knowledge of what is TRULEY outside our solar system. Well done NASA.

Paul Perkins
18th June, 2012 @ 03:03 pm PDT

I understand that the Voyager 2 probe has passed both in and out of the Heliosphere several times as the boundry shifts, I expect both probes might leave in the same fashion.

18th June, 2012 @ 09:50 pm PDT

Now It can almost experience the even more empty space that is interstellar space.

How long until it has left into the vast, truly emptiness that is the intergalactic space? :)

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
19th June, 2012 @ 10:12 am PDT

It is nice that Voyager 1 & 2 are nuclear powered. They would have run out of sufficient solar decades ago.

19th June, 2012 @ 11:29 am PDT

It wouldve been nice if they attached a telescope to it, and a camera.

Benjamin Thomas Small
19th June, 2012 @ 11:36 am PDT

Win for the voyager design team! Using 70's technology, they've made a space craft that went farther and lasted longer than any other. We still can't get phones that work longer than our contract period.

19th June, 2012 @ 02:51 pm PDT

Goodbye V-ger, give my best to Kirk!

19th June, 2012 @ 07:35 pm PDT

Such projects make me proud because I 'm a memeber of humanity; the same humanity that can accomplish such things.

I have the feeling that these projects (AND space exploration by humans, of course) are of equal or greater importance with the explorations made 500-600 years ago around the planet, explorations that multiplied the size of known world by five.

28th June, 2012 @ 04:36 pm PDT
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