Tags: voyager 1 | interstellar | space | probe

Voyager 1 Interstellar Space Probe Surfs the Solar Waves

Image: Voyager 1 Interstellar Space Probe Surfs the Solar Waves

By    |   Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 07:06 AM

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft was confirmed to be deep into interstellar space on Monday, making the probe — launched in 1977 — one of the most successful on record.

CBS News reported that Voyager 1's exact position was calculated with the help of a solar flare. Known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, among scientists, solar eruptions discharge a shock wave of plasma and other particles across the solar system and into the interstellar region.

"Normally, interstellar space is like a quiet lake," said Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, the mission's project scientist since 1972. "But when our sun has a burst, it sends a shock wave outward that reaches Voyager about a year later. The wave causes the plasma surrounding the spacecraft to sing."

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By measuring the rate at which the ejected particles vibrated while traveling — faster in dense air, slower in thin air — NASA's engineers were able to determine how far the probe was from the sun. The particles, which were first detected by the craft in March, vibrated much slower than they would have inside the solar system, which is commonly referred to as the heliosphere.

"We're excited to analyze these new data," Don Gurnett of the University of Iowa, who mans Voyager 1's plasma wave instrument, said in a statement. "So far, we can say that it confirms we are in interstellar space."

The newest wave of particles is the third such wave to reach Voyager 1 in interstellar space. The first wave was so small it wasn't discovered until after the fact, but the second such wave was anticipated and successfully measured in March of 2013.

Both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched 16 days apart in 1977, continue operation today. Voyager 2 is unique in having flown near Uranus and Neptune, and holds the record for the longest continuously operated spacecraft. It is expected to reach interstellar space itself in the next few years.

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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft was confirmed to be deep into interstellar space on Monday, making the probe — launched in 1977 — one of the most successful on record.
voyager 1, interstellar, space, probe
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2014-06-09
Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 07:06 AM
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