NASA Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space

NASA           Voyager 2 Enters Interstellar Space

This illustration shows the positions of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes in interstellar space, outside the heliosphere.

The spacecraft is beyond the outer boundary of the heliosphere, 11 billion miles from Earth.

For example, it took a whole year to officially confirm that Voyager 1 had reached the interstellar medium of space - the first spacecraft to ever do so.

What now? It's estimated it will take about 30,000 years for Voyager 2 to leave the solar system by flying beyond the Oort Cloud, a ring of icy objects that is believed to encircle the sun, way beyond the furthest planets.

But we shouldn't have to wait a whole year, like we did with Voyager 1, as we have that original data to go on to confirm when Voyager 2 is no longer feeling the Sun's winds on its back.

Voyager 2 carries something unique: the Plasma Science Experiment instrument. "I've been studying galactic cosmic rays for many years from within our heliosphere", said Georgia Denolfo, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, at the press conference. Its boundary is the outermost edge of the Oort Cloud, a group of small objects influenced by the gravity of our sun. "We're still seeing things that no one has seen before".

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"Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet", Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, said in a NASA statement.

"To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun's influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory". Both were launched within weeks of each other in 1977 on missions to fly by Jupiter and Saturn.

Besides passing the interstellar milestone, Voyager 2 is also NASA's longest running mission. It will take thousands of years for the spacecraft to get that far. After that, it picked up no solar wind flow, indicating the probe's entry into interstellar space.

The probe has now journeyed past the "heliopause" which marks the boundary between the solar system and interstellar space.

The probes are now "senior citizens", but they're in "good health" considering their age, Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said Monday. "This is what we've all been waiting for". It's possible that the probe could last thousands of years, and these records could be an important testament of the human civilization.

Voyager's mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft. NASA's DSN, managed by JPL, is an global network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. Over time, scientists will study this data to better understand Voyager 2's environment.



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