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Voyager 1 Hears Sun Echoes Far Away, In Interstellar Space

Artist's concept of Voyager 1 in interstellar space. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept of Voyager 1 in interstellar space. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wow! Even from interstellar space, the plucky Voyager 1 can still listen in to activities from our Sun. Whenever the Sun has a large amount of activity, the waves of energy it sends out bashes into the charged gas particles or plasma surrounding the NASA spacecraft, which has been sailing away from Earth since 1977.

There have been three events so far from our Sun (which is in solar maximum), with each one confirming scientists’ findings that interstellar space is where the spacecraft is, NASA said.

“Normally, interstellar space is like a quiet lake,” stated Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology. “But when our sun has a burst, it sends a shock wave outward that reaches Voyager about a year later. The wave causes the plasma surrounding the spacecraft to sing.”

“The tsunami wave rings the plasma like a bell,” added Stone. “While the plasma wave instrument lets us measure the frequency of this ringing, the cosmic ray instrument reveals what struck the bell — the shock wave from the Sun.”

The discovery of this wave front confirms the previous assertion that Voyager 1 is indeed in interstellar space, NASA added. Winds from the sun push against the plasma at the edge of interstellar space, making it denser (40 times denser than what was measured before Voyager reached the milestone in 2012, in fact.)

NASA’s announcement in 2013 that Voyager 1 is in interstellar space was accompanied by intense discussion about whether it is in or out of the Solar System (it still hasn’t reached the shell of the Oort Cloud that hosts comets, a milestone that won’t be possible for 300 years). Prior to the announcement, several scientific papers had also weighed in on Voyager 1’s status, with some saying it was interstellar space and some not.

Source: NASA

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • dontno July 8, 2014, 7:16 PM

    Wow launched in 1977 and still transmitting what’s voyagers operational life expectancy I didn’t realize they were still in use

  • PhelanKA7 July 8, 2014, 11:05 PM

    I think its power supply is good for another 10-15 years IIRC.

  • vg2neptune July 12, 2014, 9:06 PM

    If anyone is interested in hearing a sample of the raw electron plasma oscillation audio, it can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFklHHWbYrk

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