Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

This artist rendering provided by NASA shows Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system. AP

This artist rendering provided by NASA shows Voyager 1 at the edge of the solar system. AP

The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. It kept on going. Today it’s billions of miles from Earth, and scientists have been predicting it will soon leave the solar system.

NPR has been on Voyager watch since at least 2003, when longtime science correspondent Richard Harris provided this warning of Voyager’s impending departure.

But now Marc Swisdak, a physicist at the University of Maryland, says the spacecraft may have already left. “Late July 2012 is when we think it [left],” Swisdak says.

How did we miss that? As it turns out, it wasn’t entirely our fault. Researchers thought the solar system was surrounded by a clearly marked magnetic field bubble.

A concept drawing shows NASA's two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath. The heliopause marks the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. NASA

A concept drawing shows NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft exploring a turbulent region of space known as the heliosheath. The heliopause marks the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. NASA

“There’s one at the Earth, there’s one at Jupiter, Saturn, many planets have them. And so just by analogy we were expecting there to be something like that for the solar system,” Swisdak says.

Scientists were waiting for Voyager to cross over the magnetic edge of our solar system and into the magnetic field of interstellar space. But in a paper in the September issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, Swisdak and his colleagues say the magnetic fields may blend together. And so in July 2012, when Voyager crossed from the solar system into deep space, “Voyager just kept cruising along,” Swisdak says. All they saw was a change in the field’s direction.

But not everyone thinks Voyager has left. Ed Stone is NASA’s chief scientist for Voyager. He thinks there is a magnetic edge to the solar system, and until Voyager sees a change in the magnetic field, it hasn’t left the solar system. He’s hoping that change will come in the next few years.

“I think that there is a very good chance before we run out of electrical power that we will be demonstrably in interstellar space,” he says.

Until Voyager’s power goes out or the magnetic field flips, the scientific debate will continue. So will Voyager’s journey, Swisdak says: “Basically it’s just happily heading out towards … pretty much nowhere.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Read original article
Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

Recent headlines

  • dollar bill money macro

    Per diems driving special session costs

    Lawmakers who represent areas outside Juneau receive $295 for each day of the special session. Juneau lawmakers receive $221.25 per day.
  • Caroline Hoover proudly pins an Alaska Territorial Guard medal on the front of her father's parka during an official discharge ceremony held Oct. 17 in Kipnuk, Alaska. David Martin is one of three surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard's Kipnuk unit. A total of 59 residents of Kipnuk, who volunteered to defend Alaska in the event of a Japanese invasion during World War II, were recognized during the ceremony. Kipnuk residents who served with the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1942-1947 were members of a U.S. Army component organized in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Jerry Walton, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs cultural resource manager and native liaison/public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

    16 Alaska Territorial Guard vets to be honored in Anchorage

    Sixteen veterans of the Alaska Territorial Guard will be honored at a discharge ceremony today. Four of them are from Western Alaska.
  • Don Andrew Roguska looks out from an upstairs window of an historic Juneau house he bought in 2016 to restore. Zoning regulations have prevented him from rebuilding in the same style. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

    Juneau mulls relaxing zoning rules for historic houses

    The historic houses in Juneau and Douglas were predominately built by miners and fishermen long before today's zoning was put into place. That's prevented homeowners from restoring or rebuilding homes in these neighborhoods without running into conflict with the city's zoning laws -- a temporary fix may be on the way.
  • Young joins Afghanistan war skeptics in Congress

    Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young wants to know why Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. He has co-sponsored a bill that would end funding for the war in a year, unless the president and Congress affirm the need for it.
X