NASA’s Voyager 1 reaches new heights

Unchartered territory… Voyager 1

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached an exciting stage in its journey. Data sent directly to NASA has revealed that the Voyager 1 is progressing quickly towards exiting our solar system and eventually entering interstellar space.

The 34-year old spacecraft’s latest data package has travelled over 17 billion kilometres, and has given Voyager scientists clues as to the spacecraft’s whereabouts. An increase in intensity of charged particles beyond our solar system suggests the Voyager 1 is nearing the edge of the solar system.

Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, is excited about the changes in data.

“From January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25 percent in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering,” he said.

“More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month.”

A slower decline in energetic particles from inside the heliosphere (the bubble of charged particles, containing our solar system) has been apparent, however, the particles have not dropped off immensely, and this is expected when the Voyager 1 eventually breaks through the boundary of our solar system.

Voyager scientists are hoping to receive another data set that confirms their suspicions. While within the heliosphere, Voyager 1’s magnetic field lines run east-west. As it moves into interstellar space, the scientists believe the lines will shift into more of a north-south direction. Determining this change will take some time.

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 as part of the Voyager Interstellar Mission. The aim of the mission was to explore beyond the solar system. The NASA Voyagers are the furthest active human representation in space.

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