Wednesday, December 17, 2014
For the last few years, we’ve heard report after report that Voyager 1, launched from Earth in 1977 to explore the Solar System, had left the heliosphere, the invisible magnetic and charged particle bubble in space dominated by the Sun, and had encountered the heliopause, the point in space where the Sun’s influence ends and interstellar space begins.
That may have finally actually happened, thanks to data recorded by the probe in 2012 and 2013:
Per the folks at Space.com:
The density of the particles around Voyager 1 was 40 times higher than scientists had previously observed when the space probe was still in the outer layers of the heliosphere, the giant bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that surrounds the sun and the planets in our solar system. Voyager 1 team members concluded that the spacecraft had exited the heliosphere and entered a new cosmic realm. After researchers went back and looked at old data, they concluded that Voyager 1 crossed into interstellar space on August 25, 2012.
Also, consider this: The data coming back to us from Voyager 1 is recorded on old-fashioned magnetic tape, then relayed to Earth. Magnetic tape, capable of recording up to 64 megabytes of data. How robust must that little probe be? Damn robust. The recorder is set to shut down in 2015, leaving only direct communication with Earth possible – until the probe’s plutonium power source dies out in about 2025.
It’s part of a small club of man-made objects that have either left the Solar System or will within my lifetime.