Tags: nasa | voyager | mission | planets
Image: Voyager 1 Enters 'New Realm' at Edge of Solar System

Voyager 1 Enters 'New Realm' at Edge of Solar System

Friday, 28 Jun 2013 10:31 AM

By Matthew Auerbach

When NASA launched Voyager 1 in 1977, its mission was to study far-flung planets Saturn, Uranus, Jupiter and Neptune.

Having accomplished that task, the probe kept on going and now finds itself in previously unknown territory at the very edge of the solar system, BBC.com reports.

What this means, in its simplest terms, is that Voyager 1 is on the verge of becoming the first man-made object to venture into interstellar space.

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News of this discovery came in the form of three studies published in this week's Science journal.

In 2004, Voyager 1 reached a region called the heliosheath, thought to be the final frontier before entering interstellar space.

But last August, the probe detected what appears to be a boundary layer that has been dubbed the "heliosheath depletion region" by Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, lead author of one of the new studies and co-author of another.

The region is akin to a kind of magnetic highway where energetic particles on the inside can get out easily, and the galactic cosmic ray particles on the outside can zoom in.

"It is where the Sun's magnetic field has piled up, compressed up against itself," said Dr. Stone.

"It has also doubled in strength. It’s smoother than anything we've ever seen with Voyager."

According to Fox News, Stone and his team are somewhat certain the probe is still within the confines of our solar system as it did not record a shift in the direction of the ambient magnetic field, which runs east-west when controlled by the Sun but changes to north-south once outside the star’s influence.

While no one should hold their breath waiting for Voyager 1 to boldly go where no one — and no thing — has gone before, Dr. Stone thinks that time will come relatively soon, although he admits this is a whole new ballgame.

"I think it's probably several more years — 2015 is reasonable," Dr. Stone said.

"But it's speculation, because none of the models we have, have this particular region in them. So none of the models can be directly and accurately compared to what we're observing. What we're observing is really quite new."

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