Thirty-five years after its launch, Voyager 1 appears to have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and exited the heliosphere, according to a new study appearing online today.
This is really big news because the heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy.
On August 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays – cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system – spiked to levels not seen since Voyager’s launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.
It is these observations that have many in the scientific community believing that Voyager 1 has actually entered interstellar space. If this is true this is amazing. A man made object leaving the solar system, and beyond the influence of our very own sun. This makes me want to watch some Star Trek for sure. In fact if you recall the plot of “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” from 1979 the USS Enterprise does find the Voyager Spacecraft and it’s not happy. But that’s a story for another day.
|Captain Kirk & Crew try to persuade Voyager from destroying it’s creator… namely us.|
Sadly, we probably are not going to learn much about what lies beyond our solar system. This is because Voyager will begin shutting down its instruments in 2020 and at some point after 2025 its power supply will be exhausted. After that, we just have to hope that it doesn’t someday come home with a head full of questions and an existential void in its soul, which is exactly what happened in the first Start Trek motion picture.
This is quite amazing for a piece of technology that was launched by NASA way back in 1977. This is also the spacecraft that Carl Sagan’s “Golden Record” and much debated “road map” to Earth was included. The disc carries photos of the Earth and its life-forms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from people (such as the the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States) and a medley, “Sounds of Earth”, that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a collection of Earth music, including works by Mozart and Chuck Berry.