NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space 41 Years After Launch

NASA Voyager 2 enters interstellar space, could become 'the only trace of human civilization'

NASA Voyager 2 enters interstellar space, could become 'the only trace of human civilization'

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. That boundary is where the bubble created by the hot solar wind ends, according to NASA. NASA says the Voyager 2 is a little over 11 billion miles from our own planet, though its mission operators are still able to communicate with the probe.

Despite being more than 40 years old and with processing power only a fraction of what exists on modern smartphones, Voyager 2 was still able to send back data showing it has exited the heliosphere, the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the sun. Within about 300 years, they will reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud, the sphere of comets surrounding our solar system. The mission of Voyager was originally designed for five years, during which both spacecraft would rendezvous with the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 is now operating in temperatures of just about 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees Celsius), and for each year that passes the spacecraft can produce 4 watts less of energy.

"The Voyager spacecraft are now ahead of that wave in the clear air of interstellar space".

This massive bubble made up of icy debris is thought to begin at a distance of 1,000 astronomical units from our Sun. Each probe contains a 'Golden Record', curated by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan that contains a collection of music, sounds, and images from earth. Now, 41 years later, the pair of robotic space explorers have left the planets far behind and represent humanity's first baby steps into the mysterious interstellar expanse. The spacecraft thus don't rely on solar power to keep themselves alive, but power usage must be carefully managed to extend the probes' operating life. "When Voyager was launched, we didn't know how large the bubble was, we didn't know how long it would take to get there, and we didn't know if the spacecraft could last long enough to get there". It could also be the true boundary of the solar system, if you consider that to be the point where the sun's gravitational influence drops off.

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"There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause", said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif.in the statement.

"The outer edge of the Oort Cloud is approximately where that is", says Redfield, who has used the Hubble Space Telescope to study the Voyagers' paths in detail for the next hundred thousand years, and more crudely for the next several million. It joins Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012.

Voyager 2 follows its twin, Voyager 1, which made the crossing in 2012. 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.

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