Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Voyager 2 becomes second craft in interstellar space

This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes outside of the heliosphere a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto NASA Voyager 2 enters interstellar space, could become 'the only trace of human civilization'
Doris Mccormick | 11 December, 2018, 00:56

They might not call it just yet, as Voyager 1 entered the interstellar medium at around 121 AU (or 121 times the distance between the Sun and Earth), but Voyager 2 is now at only 119 AU. The probe's twin, the Voyager 1, was the first to reach interstellar space in 2012 although Voyager 2 is far more interesting as it still has working instruments.

It's trailing twin Voyager 1, which reached interstellar space in 2012 and is now 21 billion kilometres from Earth. Today NASA announced that on November 5, researchers saw a steep drop-off in the speeds of solar winds around the probe. Other instruments on the spacecraft have provided evidence consistent with having crossed past the heliopause and into interstellar space.

Despite the probe entering interstellar space, Voyager 2, along with Voyager 1, have not left the solar system and won't for quite a while, NASA said. Scientists maintain the solar system stretches to the outer edge of the so-called Oort Cloud, a sphere of icy bodies millions of miles away which will take thousands of years to traverse.

"Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer because everything we're seeing is new", said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nicky Fox, director of the heliophysics division at NASA, said: "This time is better still for us".

"To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun's influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory".

NASA launched the probe back in 1977 and all these decades later it's finally stepped out into the space between the stars.

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Voyager 2 launched a couple weeks before Voyager 1, and both have long outlived their original five-year missions to study Jupiter and Saturn.

They have now been operating for 41 years making it NASA's longest-running mission. It will take about 30,000 years for the spacecraft to get that far. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium.

Neither probe has left our solar system, however, and won't be doing so anytime soon.

The probes are now "senior citizens", but they're in "good health" considering their age, Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said Monday. Each year the amount of power the system provides declines. "This is what we've all been waiting for".

A NASA illustration of the Voyager spacecraft.

Both Voyager space crafts are loaded with memorabilia from Earth's culture, including a Golden Record of Earth, which is comprised of sounds, pictures and messages. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions.

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