Voyager Spacecraft May Have Slipped From Solar System Year Ago

Image: Voyager Spacecraft May Have Slipped From Solar System Year Ago

Friday, 16 Aug 2013 10:46 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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NASA scientists claim that the Voyager 1 has been teetering on the edge of the solar system for months, but a new study suggests that the spacecraft actually made the transition into interstellar space last summer.

Launched a few weeks apart in 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 went on a "Grand Tour" of the planets, capturing up-close photos of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. After the trip, the probes headed for the edge of the heliosphere, the huge bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields emanating from the sun, Space.com reported.

Voyager 1, now some 11.6 billion miles from Earth, reached the barrier first but NASA scientists don’t think it has actually left the solar system because it hasn’t yet recorded a shift in the direction of the magnetic field.

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The Voyager 1 did, however, detect a simultaneous jump in high-energy galactic cosmic rays, which originate from outside the solar system, back on July 27, 2012, and that is when the study's authors believe it truly left the heliosphere.

"It's a somewhat controversial view, but we think Voyager [1] has finally left the solar system, and is truly beginning its travels through the Milky Way," lead author Marc Swisdak of the University of Maryland said in a statement.

Published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the study suggests that some of the confusion stemmed from the fact that scientists expected that the magnetic fields would change at the same time that particles from the sun abated and galactic rays increased.

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"Our paper argues that this isn't the case," Swisdak said.

According to Swisdak, Voyager will eventually detect a change in the magnetic field, but it will occur gradually as Voyager moves farther away from the heliosphere.

Related stories:

Voyager Space Probe Reaches Edge of Solar System

Located at Solar System's Edge, When Will Voyager 1 Cross Threshold?

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

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