New Indications Voyager 1 is about to Exit Solar System

This artist's concept shows NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft exploring a region called the "depletion region" or "magnetic highway" at the outer limits of our heliosphere, the bubble the sun blows around itself.

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft exploring a region called the “depletion region” or “magnetic highway” at the outer limits of our heliosphere, the bubble the sun blows around itself.
Credit NASA-JPL-Caltech

When Voyager 1 and it’s twin were launched in 1977 no one really expected the Voyager spacecraft would last for over 30 years but in theory they could. In practice these amazing pieces of technology are still functioning and sending valuable data about our solar system, how far the influence of our sun is felt and what lies beyond. It is amazing to think we are still communicating with a machine which is more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away. For the first time ever a man made object is about to leave our solar system. In a paper published by the journal Science today there are new indications Voyager 1 has found the edge of our solar system and is about to go where no man (spacecraft) has gone before. (Sorry for the Star Trek Reference).

In 2004 Voyager 1 passed a shockwave known as the termination shock , where solar wind suddenly slowed down and became turbulent. Then in  2010, it then passed into an area called the “stagnation region”. In this area the outward velocity of the solar wind slowed to zero and sporadically reversed direction. In the slow-down and stagnation regions.

On Aug. 25, 2012, Voyager 1 entered the depletion or magnetic highway region, where the magnetic field acts as a kind of “magnetic highway” allowing energetic ions from inside the heliosphere to escape out, and cosmic rays from interstellar space zoom in. “This strange, last region before interstellar space is coming into focus, thanks to Voyager 1, humankind’s most distant scout,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “If you looked at the cosmic ray and energetic particle data in isolation, you might think Voyager had reached interstellar space, but the team feels Voyager 1 has not yet gotten there because we are still within the domain of the sun’s magnetic field.”

“We saw a dramatic and rapid disappearance of the solar-originating particles. They decreased in intensity by more than 1,000 times, as if there was a huge vacuum pump at the entrance ramp onto the magnetic highway,” said Stamatios Krimigis, the low-energy charged particle instrument’s principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. “We have never witnessed such a decrease before, except when Voyager 1 exited the giant magnetosphere of Jupiter, some 34 years ago.”

 

This video shows the particles motion as Voyager begins to exit our solar system and leave the influence of the sun behind. Voyager has already found magnetic bubbles as it nears the edge. Who knows what it will find as it continues it journey into the record books.

 

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.