Voyager 1 may have left the solar system

Oct 09, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
Number of particles from the Sun hitting Voyager 1. Credit: NASA

While there's no official word from NASA on this, the buzz around the blogosphere is that Voyager 1 has left the Solar System. The evidence comes from this graph, above, which shows the number of particles, mainly protons, from the Sun hitting Voyager 1 across time. A huge drop at the end of August hints that Voyager 1 may now be in interstellar space. The last we heard from the Voyager team was early August, and they indicated that on July 28, the level of lower-energy particles originating from inside our Solar System dropped by half. However, in three days, the levels had recovered to near their previous levels. But then the bottom dropped out at the end of August.

The Voyager team has said they have been seeing two of three key signs of changes expected to occur at the boundary of . In addition to the drop in particles from the Sun, they've also seen a jump in the level of high-energy cosmic rays originating from outside our Solar System.

The third key sign would be the direction of the magnetic field. No word on that yet, but scientists are eagerly analyzing the data to see whether that has, indeed, changed direction. Scientists expect that all three of these signs will have changed when Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space.

"These are thrilling times for the Voyager team as we try to understand the quickening pace of changes as Voyager 1 approaches the edge of interstellar space," said Edward Stone, the Voyager project scientist for the entire mission, who was quoted in early August. "We are certainly in a new region at the edge of the solar system where things are changing rapidly. But we are not yet able to say that Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space."

Stone added that the data are changing in ways that the team didn't expect, "but Voyager has always surprised us with ."

launched on Sept. 5, 1977, is approximately 18 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the Sun. , which launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is close behind, at 15 billion km (9.3 billion miles) from the Sun.

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User comments : 19

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Lurker2358
1.3 / 5 (32) Oct 09, 2012
All this really means is the old clunker's equipment is starting to crap out.
Deathclock
4.2 / 5 (21) Oct 09, 2012
All this really means is the old clunker's equipment is starting to crap out.


No, that's stupid. We expected the results that we are seeing.
islatas
4.8 / 5 (17) Oct 09, 2012
Phenomenal! Now we just need to wait and see that Voyager 2 confirms.

Old clunker? What an ignorant troll.
hemitite
3.7 / 5 (9) Oct 09, 2012
I really don't expect anyone to remember that Sep. 5th is also my birthday. ;o)
Squeeky_Gunderson
5 / 5 (10) Oct 09, 2012
lurker needs to get back on the meds - safe journey voyager - may the robot gods protect and guide you.
GldfrdEng
5 / 5 (6) Oct 09, 2012
This is fascinating information, and the scientific/engineering feat is almost astonishing. Well done NASA, and the USA.
ziphead
3.5 / 5 (11) Oct 09, 2012

Old clunker? What an ignorant troll.


The ignorant are ignorable.
The ignorant and opinionated ones; a little less so.

But I digress. Go baby, go... ~~~~~~~<)
padric
5 / 5 (8) Oct 09, 2012
As much as I would like to get excited about this, there's a certain supreme geekiness associated with getting excited about the fact that Voyager 1, already long past all major objects in our solar system, is now heading outside the heliosphere (gasp) into (yikes) an even larger nothingness.

All (or most) sarcasm aside, I find it unbelievably amazing that this thing launched when I was 17 years old and I'm now 52 and we are STILL tracking it. That is so cool. I just wish it could do more for us at this point than confirm the magnetic boundary of our solar system.

My fear is that ET is going to contact us and, based on the 1977 disc on VGER, say the other intelligent species in the universe are a bit disappointed at Earth with this whole disco thing.
JoeBlue
1.7 / 5 (11) Oct 10, 2012
My fear is that ET is going to contact us and, based on the 1977 disc on VGER, say the other intelligent species in the universe are a bit disappointed at Earth with this whole disco thing.


Here I was hoping I would be first to make the VGER reference. I thought my day couldn't get any worse....
ROBTHEGOB
2.1 / 5 (8) Oct 10, 2012
"The Kirk Unit is defective......."
Husky
4 / 5 (3) Oct 10, 2012
i think the huge spike in august was klingons materializing on the starboard bow
HeloMenelo
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 10, 2012
"No, that's stupid. We expected the results that we are seeing."
"Stone added that the data are changing in ways that the team didn't expect"
Deathclock
2.8 / 5 (9) Oct 10, 2012
"No, that's stupid. We expected the results that we are seeing."
"Stone added that the data are changing in ways that the team didn't expect"


Referring to two different things... we expected this drop-off you see in the graph, we didn't expect the smaller dips before hand.
HeloMenelo
2 / 5 (8) Oct 10, 2012
All good :)
rubberman
3 / 5 (9) Oct 10, 2012
The magnetic field info. will be invaluable. The fact that we have an instrument out there to measure it and take continuous readings for as long as these probes continue to function is a true testament to what we as a race can accomplish if we focus our resources. The design and construction teams should be awarded yearly nobel prizes for every year past the end of the original mission that they continue to function. Job very well done guys!
chieko
not rated yet Oct 12, 2012
Maybe the heliopause is undulating.
shayneo
5 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2012
All this really means is the old clunker's equipment is starting to crap out.


Nope. This is what is expected. And she may be an old clunker by todays standard. But she's a beautifully elegant and precise old clunker whos still giving us great data after 3 and a half decades.
Me myself and I
not rated yet Oct 17, 2012
What I am curious about is how long until it enters the Local Interstellar cloud (i.e. the Local Fluff). How well shielded is it against the extreme heat that it is expected to encounter?

I haven't seen anything to indicate what the distance is from where Voyager is now and the edge of the Fluff.

Another thing about the Local Fluff I haven't seen, is how quickly the temperature gets up to the expected 6000K? Is it a fairly quick surge in temperature or would it take months or years at it's current rate of speed to get turned to slag?
Lachrimos
not rated yet Nov 08, 2012
i'm more excited about the nature of free roaming interstellar particles that are neither traveling fast enough or carrying proper charge to permeate the heliosphere, particles not found near any stars but only in the deepest regions outside the magnetic influence of a star