Voyager 2 Bids Adieu To The Heliosphere, Entering Interstellar Space


Scientists say Voyager 2 exited the heliosphere, our Sun's protective bubble, on November 5th. This time the passage into interstellar space is yielding a different set of readings, with new clues to how the sun affects space in the far reaches of the solar system. Although NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft launched before the Voyagers paved the way on similar journeys beyond the Asteroid Belt to the outer solar system, eventually leading into interstellar space, they are no longer communicating with Earth.

At its current speed, it will take the Voyager 2 300 years to reach the inner edge of the Oort cloud, and another 30,000 to emerge on the other side.

Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 20, 1977, the dairy cow-size Voyager 2 began its odyssey with a grand tour of the outer solar system, making vital discoveries at Jupiter and Saturn and returning some of the best views yet of Uranus and Neptune. For example, NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) that is in Earth orbit is observing the interface between the heliosphere and interstellar space and trying to help astrophysicists understand how the interstellar medium interacts with the heliosphere as our solar system travels through interstellar space. Estimates of how far the Oort Cloud stretches vary between about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) - one AU is the distance between the Sun and the Earth of about 150 million kilometers - and 100,000 AU.

Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of earth sounds, pictures and messages, which may one day be the only trace of human civilisation.

While it's only the second human-made object to make the journey, it's the first probe that's been capable of sending back detailed information to scientists, providing humans with the first glimpse of the mysteries of space.

And while both spacecraft have left the heliosphere, they have not yet left the solar system.

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"Its trajectory took it south of the plane of the solar system, so you need southern hemisphere facilities in order to pick up [its signals]", Professor Watson told The World Today.

"There is a lot of science data ahead, and we anticipate we can operate for five to six or nearly 10 more years, just not with all instruments on", Dodd said. Voyager 2 is now NASA's longest running mission, reports Xinhua. The PSE instrument stopped working for Voyager 1 in 1980, however, so Voyager 2 has been able to gather more in-depth information than its twin during this historic moment.

The first device in history that left the heliosphere, was the "Voyager-1". It is possible that in coming years, as the sun reaches the peak of its roughly 11-year activity cycle, its outbursts could push the heliopause farther out again, perhaps even beyond Voyager 2.

"We're all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone", Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

Voyager project scientist Ed Stone confirmed the craft left the Solar System on November 5, 2018, when the steady stream of particles emitted from the Sun - and that was being detected by the probe - suddenly dipped.