Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Voyager 1 on the threshold of interstellar space

Thirty-three years ago, on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 was launched for a journey to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond. Since then, we've seen the first space shuttle launch, the birth and death of compact discs, the introduction of the Chicken McNugget and both Bush presidencies. In those 33 years, Voyager 1 has seen quite a bit more and right now the probe is peering into the last reaches of our solar system.


After thirty-three years of zipping away from the Earth, Voyager 1 has reached the edge of our solar system, entering a realm where the Sun's plasma (hot ionized gas) no longer journeys.

Six years ago, the space probe left the "heliosphere," the bubble surrounding our solar system which is filled with charged particles (solar wind) emitted by the Sun, and entered the "helioshealth" - the last frontier before interstellar space.

Since June, scientists monitoring Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument noticed that the solar wind speed was equal to the aircraft's speed, meaning the solar wind's speed was equal to zero. It's an indication that the probe is on the threshold of stepping beyond our solar system's edge.

"When I realized that we were getting solid zeroes, I was amazed," Rob Decker, a Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator and senior staff scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in the NASA press release. "Here was Voyager, a spacecraft that has been a workhorse for 33 years, showing us something completely new again."

The scientists don't believe Voyager 1 has crossed over into interstellar space - the area between the stars - just yet, but they think it will sometime in the next few years. Right now, Voyager 1 is about 10.8 billion miles from the Sun, traveling at 38,000 mph.

Voyager 2, Voyager 1's sister probe which launched a few weeks before Voyager 1, is also headed for interstellar space. That probe is traveling more slowly, however, at 35,000 mph and, at a current range of 8.8 billion miles from the Sun, still has a ways to go before it encounters the edge of the solar system.

Both spacecraft were launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - a mission they completed in the late 1980s.

4 comments:

  1. I remember when the probe was launched in grade school,and voyager 2.I feel so old now.Now NASA has a probe blazing to Pluto wow.
    Wish that humanity wouldve invented a star drive by now.
    The universe may hold the key to the energy crisis and may hold more wonders than thought possible.

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  2. 33 years and about 11 billion kilometers ! - but just a miniscule distance considering the size of the universe. And half a lifetime gone!

    Surely, there must be other ways of quickly reaching and exploring our universe, unknown to us now. Else humankind will all be stuck to our planetary system - surely the creator didn't have this in mind.


    The capability of the human brain is enormous. I am sure we (mankind) will be able to travel at the speed of light or faster, perhaps at the speed of thought. Can we think of ways of doing this?



    Sumitro Saha
    Engineer-MBA, India

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  3. Amazing!! 33 years in those conditions and still sending back decipherable data. These days, I cant even get a mobile or laptop to work more than 2 years.

    @Engineer Scott: I am happy we havent been able to get to other planets. First we need to solve all our issues on this one. We are just parasites/virus and all the problems we have created here, we will only take to the next planet. I mean, who is going to be in charge there? The United Nations? Security Council? These institutions are a joke.

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  4. "I am sure we (mankind) will be able to travel at the speed of light or faster, perhaps at the speed of thought."

    What?

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