Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:28 pm

Link.

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. Data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveal this new region to be a kind of cosmic purgatory. In it, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has calmed, our solar system's magnetic field has piled up, and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.

"Voyager tells us now that we're in a stagnation region in the outermost layer of the bubble around our solar system," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Voyager is showing that what is outside is pushing back. We shouldn't have long to wait to find out what the space between stars is really like."

Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. In the latest data, the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager is still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make it past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but suggest it will be in a few months to a few years.

The latest findings, described today at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco, come from Voyager's Low Energy Charged Particle instrument, Cosmic Ray Subsystem and Magnetometer.

Scientists previously reported the outward speed of the solar wind had diminished to zero in April 2010, marking the start of the new region. Mission managers rolled the spacecraft several times this spring and summer to help scientists discern whether the solar wind was blowing strongly in another direction. It was not. Voyager 1 is plying the celestial seas in a region similar to Earth's doldrums, where there is very little wind.

During this past year, Voyager's magnetometer also detected a doubling in the intensity of the magnetic field in the stagnation region. Like cars piling up at a clogged freeway off-ramp, the increased intensity of the magnetic field shows that inward pressure from interstellar space is compacting it.

Voyager has been measuring energetic particles that originate from inside and outside our solar system. Until mid-2010, the intensity of particles originating from inside our solar system had been holding steady. But during the past year, the intensity of these energetic particles has been declining, as though they are leaking out into interstellar space. The particles are now half as abundant as they were during the previous five years.

At the same time, Voyager has detected a 100-fold increase in the intensity of high-energy electrons from elsewhere in the galaxy diffusing into our solar system from outside, which is another indication of the approaching boundary.

"We've been using the flow of energetic charged particles at Voyager 1 as a kind of wind sock to estimate the solar wind velocity," said Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We've found that the wind speeds are low in this region and gust erratically. For the first time, the wind even blows back at us. We are evidently traveling in completely new territory. Scientists had suggested previously that there might be a stagnation layer, but we weren't sure it existed until now."

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health. Voyager 2 is 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from the sun.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager .

For more information about NASA media events at the American Geophysical Union meeting, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/agu .
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Captain Picard's Hair » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:42 pm

So it's how many years now from meeting a vastly powerful alien entity and returning to us in a giant cloud*? :)

Remarkable that we're still getting great scientific results from this probe, though also a reminder of how vast space is: it's been 35 years and it's only just reaching the limits of the solar system. The nearest star must be thousands of years away at that rate. Either way, it's been tremendous ROI for NASA on this one.



* V'Ger was actually Voyager 6, a fictitious probe since there were only 2 Voyagers in real life. Do we know exactly what probe the Klingon ship shot down in STV?
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Captain Seafort » Sun Jun 17, 2012 7:59 pm

Captain Picard's Hair wrote: Do we know exactly what probe the Klingon ship shot down in STV?


Pioneer 10, probably because at the time she was the farthest man-made object from Earth. Voyager's overtaken her since then.

Remarkable that we're still getting great scientific results from this probe, though also a reminder of how vast space is: it's been 35 years and it's only just reaching the limits of the solar system. The nearest star must be thousands of years away at that rate. Either way, it's been tremendous ROI for NASA on this one.


Aye. It's an amazing feat of engineering that she's not just still transmitting after all this time, but at least as of last year was still responding to commands and manoeuvering.
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Sun Jun 17, 2012 8:18 pm

They just don't build 'em like they used to. ;) It's a definite crowning moment of awesome.
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Captain Seafort » Sun Jun 17, 2012 9:22 pm

What's even more amazing is the pure coincidence of the planetary alignment coming along at precisely the time we were able to take advantage of it. A decade earlier, and we wouldn't have had the technology to do it, a decade later and we probably wouldn't have had the will.
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Captain Picard's Hair » Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:59 pm

Captain Seafort wrote:What's even more amazing is the pure coincidence of the planetary alignment coming along at precisely the time we were able to take advantage of it. A decade earlier, and we wouldn't have had the technology to do it, a decade later and we probably wouldn't have had the will.


That alignment, with all the big planets roughly in a line on the same side of the Sun, happens about every 175 years. Someone at NASA joked that the last time it happened Thomas Jefferson was president and he missed the opportunity. The next alignment should occur around 2154.
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Tsukiyumi » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:58 am

Captain Picard's Hair wrote:...the last time it happened Thomas Jefferson was president and he missed the opportunity...


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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby Mikey » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:30 pm

Nobody else finds it interesting that the scientist involved with Voyager is named "Decker?" :lol:

Agreed that modern builds could take a couple of lessons from the way this old girl was put together; and it is indeed amazing that within the space of a year or two we might actually start transmitting data from true interstellar space. Unlike many of you, I actually recall the launch of Voyager I, especially since it coincided with the year of the original theatrical release of Star Wars.
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Re: Voyager Close to Leaving Solar System

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:46 pm

Ah, I missed it by a year, then.
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