Voyager Pushes Boundary of Interstellar Space

Article written: 15 Jun , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

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It may be some 10.8 billion miles from home, but Voyager 1 is sending back some surprising data from the edge Even more recent transmissions show the gallant probe is closer to interstellar space than ever. “We’ve reached the boundary of the heliosheath, Jim… and it ain’t dead.”

It has taken 34 years, but Voyager 1 has now defiantly encountered the edge – the area where the speed of the solar plasma has decreased from 150,000 miles an hour down to zero. As released in the June 16th issue of Nature, a team of Voyager scientists led by Stamatios Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory speculates “the outflow of the solar wind may have stopped because of the pressure from the interstellar magnetic field in the region between stars.”

For the last three years the incredible little probe has been busy overseeing the predominant part of the plasma’s velocity in the heliosheath – a virtual pool of energetic ions and electrons. Now measurements have slipped from 40 miles per second to zero. This was first noted in April when Voyager’s speed matched the assessments.

“This tells us that Voyager 1 may be close to the heliopause, or the boundary at which the interstellar medium basically stops the outflow of solar wind,” says Krimigis, principal investigator for Voyager’s Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument. “The extended transition layer of near-zero outflow contradicts theories that predict a sharp transition to the interstellar flow at the heliopause – and means, once again, we will need to rework our models.”

Because we’re literally breaking new science ground, these new findings on velocities could fluctuate – meaning that more monthly readings are in order. When will we know? A good indicator would be when hot particles turn cold… a signal that interstellar space has been breached. This could occur as soon as the end of 2012.

Just another reason we might be around just a little bit longer…

Original Story Source: John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab News.


18 Responses

  1. This is so COOL! I am amazed that I would live long enough to see an interstellar spacecraft.

  2. Anonymous says

    “literally breaking new science ground”? We hope it doesn’t find any literal “ground”, because “breaking ground” at 17 km/s breaks the spaceship too!

  3. Francisco Aguila says

    im amazed how the old-fashioned voyagers are still making headlines in 2011 🙂

  4. Anonymous says

    I wonder if New Horizons will still be sending back data in 30 years.

    • Anonymous says

      Wikipedia says that it has only about half the power budget, so it might depend on building larger antennas back home.

  5. Seo Zhou says

    quality fake SubmarinerThanks for this! I studied fine art in college but I am a web developer now. I spent a summer in Sweden (Mullsjo Folkaskola) – – really great to see a strong art history references in Smashing.

  6. Anonymous says

    And while this probe has travelled this far our interstellar radio noise has travelled so much farther…unfiltered.

  7. some 50 years later.. humans will think of Voyager’s accomplishments as mere blips in mankind’s ability.. just the way we now laugh at the capabilities of early supercomputers.

    • weren’t the old super computers really large?

      • Anonymous says

        Supercomputers aren’t getting any smaller; they are possibly growing on average. The early Crays are widely noted for their compact enclosure, which mimics a couch.

    • Anonymous says

      Well it was launched 34 years ago, so that leaves us 16 years? It’s almost certain that no probe at all will be launched on a solar escape trajectory in that time, because there are no current proposals to do so.

      The relative accomplishments or capabilities of a machine do not reflect much on its human creators. The Voyager probes took advantage of a rare planetary alignment; propulsion technology must advance just to replicate their feat.

      As for computers, I’ll leave you to laugh… Computer design much more than spacecraft has been an evolutionary process, and the designs of Seymour Cray (who invented the term “supercomputer” for marketing purposes) are still studied.

    • Justin Hartberger says

      I would love to still be around to see headlines that read “Pictures of Voyager 1 flyby from (insert space probe here) in interstellar space”

  8. Gustavo Josè Herrera-Marcano says

    Interstelar space may reserve new surprises and discoveries as long as the probes keep working

  9. Anonymous says

    Why is the Heliosphere elongated to the right?

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      My reaction too. Should it not be a bubble more or less centered on the Sun AFAIK (IBEX model)? Maybe we need updated illustrations!?*

      ———–
      * These things takes time, if indeed our suspicions are correct. Over the last two years, apparently massive genome sequencing has facilitated discovering a putative fungi clade without the hallmark chitin cellular coat that previous fungi sported.

      Some of those fungi genomes has subsequently been identified to precisely chitin-less unicellular fungi species, including a parasitic fungi (on other fungi) known from ~ 1880.

      Now, this clade, which is situated at the root of the fungi clade and looks like they are sporting the ancestral state (i.e. no chitin), is according to the massive sequencing perhaps well as large as the rest of the fungi tree we already knew! So perhaps one hallmark sign for fungi goes out the window.

      But it will take time. [/looks at clock]

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      My reaction too. Should it not be a bubble more or less centered on the Sun AFAIK (IBEX model)? Maybe we need updated illustrations!?*

      ———–
      * These things takes time, if indeed our suspicions are correct. Over the last two years, apparently massive genome sequencing has facilitated discovering a putative fungi clade without the hallmark chitin cellular coat that previous fungi sported.

      Some of those fungi genomes has subsequently been identified to precisely chitin-less unicellular fungi species, including a parasitic fungi (on other fungi) known from ~ 1880.

      Now, this clade, which is situated at the root of the fungi clade and looks like they are sporting the ancestral state (i.e. no chitin), is according to the massive sequencing perhaps well as large as the rest of the fungi tree we already knew! So perhaps one hallmark sign for fungi goes out the window.

      But it will take time. [/looks at clock]

    • Anonymous says

      My guess is it’s because the Sun is travelling leftwards, so the pressure exerted by the interstellar medium is enhanced on the left side and diminished on the right.

      • Anonymous says

        That is very likely, thanks Grimbold!

        Maybe it’s not so much luck, but rather the foresight and calculation of the people who sent these amazing spacecraft to outer space.(?)

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