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NASA Space

Voyager 1, So Close To Interstellar Space That We Can Taste It! 271

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the and-then-it-hits-the-wall dept.
mphall21 writes "Voyager 1 is nearing the edge of the 'magnetic highway' of our solar system and scientists believe this is the final area the space probe must cross before entering interstellar space. The Voyager team infers this region is still inside of our heliosphere because the direction of the magnetic field has not changed. The direction of this field is expected to change when Voyager goes into interstellar space. 'Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,' said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. 'We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.' Moving at 10.5 miles per second, the space probe is the most distant man-made object from Earth. The space craft has been in operation for 35 years and receives regular commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network."
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Voyager 1, So Close To Interstellar Space That We Can Taste It!

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:22PM (#42175803)
    This is truly a triumph of modern science and unfortunately we do not dream big like this anymore. We are limited to our own backyard. The moon, Mars, etc. Such a shame.
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:31PM (#42175841) Homepage Journal

      Well there is New Horizons.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:41PM (#42175911)
      We don't dream this big anymore? Since Voyager left earth, we sequenced the human genome, along with the genomes of nearly 200 other organisms. The computer that lives in my pocket is so much better than the computers on board Voyager that I can't even figure out how to compare them. Granted, I only spent 5 minutes skimming wiki articles trying to do so, but I'll also point out that 5 minutes of research got me the name of all the units on board the voyager, and way too much information for me to handle on that. 5 minutes of research at Voyager's time would maybe result in "finding the right world book letter." And it wouldn't have that information.

      Putting a big rocket and a nuclear power supply on something and sending it off into space is awe-inspiring, yes, but I'd argue we're dreaming much bigger today. The internet changed the world a lot more than the space age did.

      (Note that I'm not knocking the space age, and am fully aware that it's unlikely the internet would have come about were it not for the space age.)
      • Space age research is still alive and well too. GP's comment comes on the heels of this [slashdot.org] and this [slashdot.org], not to mention that we're also seeing potential earths in other solar systems for the first time ever! plus at the same time learning even more about awesome our own home is.

        Maybe the public at large is more concerned about which husband/wife the latest Kardashian is on, but the age of the geeks is accelerating far faster than any it ever has, and it will continue to do so as long as there is the tiniest of means.

        And while we're on it, let's not forget that we're also thinking smaller than ever before. How long has it been since we isolated the Higgs Boson???

        • by indytx (825419)

          Maybe the public at large is more concerned about which husband/wife the latest Kardashian is on, but the age of the geeks is accelerating far faster than any it ever has, and it will continue to do so as long as there is the tiniest of means.

          I think most people are tired of Hollywood stars, reality TV, and people famous for being famous. Mass market media is now a race to the bottom to keep the dwindling ignorant interested, and it was never very good at keeping the public informed about science and technology, and my guess would be that it's always been easier to have an "informed" interview with a Kardashian versus and informed interview of a scientist or engineer.

      • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @01:49AM (#42176435)
        George W Bush tried to cancel [washingtonpost.com] these two programs. For a paltry savings of $4 million/yr.

        And we're sadly looking back on him as 'enlightened'.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by phantomfive (622387)
          Who looks back on Bush as enlightened? They didn't even invite him to the Republican national convention.
          • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @08:44AM (#42178025) Homepage

            Who looks back on Bush as enlightened?

            Mitt Romney?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by kelemvor4 (1980226)

            Who looks back on Bush as enlightened? They didn't even invite him to the Republican national convention.

            I was thinking the same thing. I work with lots of republicans and even those people don't have anything good to say about g dubya.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @03:49AM (#42176919)

        > The computer that lives in my pocket is so much better than the computers on board Voyager..

        I suspect the computer in your pocket won't still be working in 35 years.

        • Yes, but "will still be working in 35 years" isn't the gold standard for what is "dreaming big." So I don't know what your point is.
      • Personally, I think you reinforced AC's point. All that progress and we haven't used any of it for any bigger projects than voyager.
    • Who's the "We" ? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:05AM (#42176015) Journal

      This is truly a triumph of modern science and unfortunately we do not dream big like this anymore. We are limited to our own backyard. The moon, Mars, etc. Such a shame.

      If the "we" in question is NASA, your assertion is true.
       
      However, if the "we" denotes the human race, nope, the dream is still on, and there are still people working towards achieving even greater goals.
       
      People in Brazil, in Japan, in India, in China are working on projects that may take us (and the "us" here means human race) further.

      • Re:Who's the "We" ? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @06:40AM (#42177507)

        This is truly a triumph of modern science and unfortunately we do not dream big like this anymore. We are limited to our own backyard. The moon, Mars, etc. Such a shame.

        If the "we" in question is NASA, your assertion is true. However, if the "we" denotes the human race, nope, the dream is still on, and there are still people working towards achieving even greater goals. People in Brazil, in Japan, in India, in China are working on projects that may take us (and the "us" here means human race) further.

        And you would be wrong as well. The fact is that NASA is still dreaming big. Putting man on the moon for 3 days is NOT that hard. It was that NASA planned it, and CONgress funded it, allowing them to get it done.
        Now, NASA was striving to go to Mars and the moon in the 90's when the republicans gutted this effort. They made NASA stop work on things like Transhab and VASIMIR. The neo-cons wanted NASA spending to go into a different direction. Clinton opposed it as being short-sighted, but it was part of a deal to drop our deficit.
        THis was followed with more gutting the ISS, post Columbia, but oddly, the most important piece of the ISS, the centrifuge, was gutted. This would tell us how to survive on the moon and mars. And yet, the neo-cons gutted this on item. Just amazing.
        Then it was decided to kill off the shuttle (good, since it was costing too much money), and push for Constellation. However, again, CONgress, basically neo-cons, underfunded it so badly that the program was DOA. Thankfully, the 90's plan that NASA hatched to get private space going was funded for cargo only.
        Now, Obama comes on and backs pushing private space, while killing off Constellation (it was dead anyways and just rotting). Yet, the neo-cons have worked their tails off to kill it and any attempt to leave the planet. They tried to kill the 1-2B for funding CCDev claiming a waste of money, while pushing the SLS for 20B telling NASA which contractors they would use. In particular, it was all of the contractors that were in CONgress critter's districts.
        The neo-cons are STILL striving to kill off private space. In particular, NASA wants to fund PRIVATE fuel depot and various tugs for service. Some would be chemical, but others would be electrical (great for cargo). In addition, they want to get private space stations going, esp. Bigelow. These companies would then work together to put man on the moon and mars. NASA would simply lead the way, doing the hard R&D, while allowing private space to do the things that NASA has already R&D. With this approach, we will be on the moon by 2020, IFF the neo-cons are not allowed to gut NASA again.

        NASA is dreaming big. It is one political party that is far more interested in keeping itself alive rather than worrying about our nation's future that is the problem.

    • by gman003 (1693318) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:40AM (#42176185)

      We're spotting exoplanets faster than we can name them. We just landed a fucking nuclear-powered, laser-wielding science tank on Mars. Two years ago we dive-bombed the moon so we could search the debris cloud for signs of water. New Horizons is planned to leave the solar system as well once it's done with Pluto. We've got probes around Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Vesta, and whole damn fleets around the Moon and Mars, with another probe en route to Jupiter. We've got a company planning to mine the freaking asteroid belt. The ISS is constantly manned - I get Twitter pics *every* *day* from fucking *space*.

      The hell we aren't dreaming big. The only reason Voyager is the only probe so far out is because it takes forty years to get there.

      • by fred911 (83970)

        "The only reason Voyager is the only probe so far out is because it takes forty years to get there."

        ET..Phone home!!

      • The only reason Voyager is the only probe so far out is because it takes forty years to get there.

        That and it was very lucky with the planetary alignments to get a huge number of gravitational assists.

        Though, by the sounds of it these days we could send out a faster probe by using modern ion engines and the smaller gravity assists available. It would still take quite a while to pass Voyager, though.

    • And you'll get to experience the end of the world on December 21st, caused by those same probes!

      We never suspected that the heliosheath, the stars and deep space, all of it, was an illusion, caused by odd refractions at the edge of the bubble that we live in. As Voyager 1 approaches, and touches the threshold, it gives slightly, and then ... *pop*

      All of existence unravels, and turns inside out briefly before collapsing, the unlikely self-sustaining equation finally solving itself for x.

    • by kryliss (72493)

      With the way things are built these days. If Voyager I was launched today, it would last about 2 years and just days after the warranty ran out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Widowwolf (779548)
        Spirit and Opportunity would like to have a word with you. Well surpassed everything
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What does interstellar space taste like?

  • by p51d007 (656414) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:25PM (#42175813)
    I was 17 when this thing launched...remember it well, all the hoop-de-doo about that gold disk. Either the Klingons will get it, or maybe the Borg?
    • by ipquickly (1562169) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:45PM (#42175935) Homepage

      I was 17 when this thing launched...remember it well, all the hoop-de-doo about that gold disk.
      Either the Klingons will get it, or maybe the Borg?

      Cmon, it's GOLD. The Ferengi will get it before anyone else even notices.

      • by bigstrat2003 (1058574) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:10AM (#42176049)
        No Ferengi would bother with it. They don't care about gold, merely the latinum that gold can act as an enclosure for.
  • Littering (Score:4, Funny)

    by ipquickly (1562169) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:26PM (#42175823) Homepage

    We have enough trouble littering and leaving our useless garbage behind here on Earth. Now we are also littering in inter-stellar space.
    Do you know how freaking big the ticket for this will be?

    • by Scutter (18425)

      Voyager is moving at 10.5 miles per second. They gotta catch it first.

    • by rubycodez (864176) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:42PM (#42175923)

      that is a nonsensical point of view, the universe is mostly filled with litter. Metal asteroids and hydrocarbons and dirty ice balls, the amount of cubic miles of that in our own solar system alone is beyond human comprehension, Man's pollution on a cosmic scale is essentially zero, the universe is already pre-polluted

      • by martinX (672498) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:15AM (#42176081)

        And then I got a call from officer Obie-Wan. He said, "Kid, we found your name on a space probe at the bottom of a half a gigaton of
        garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it." And I said, "Yes, sir, Officer Obie-Wan, I cannot tell a lie, I put that space probe
        under that garbage."

        • by Gilmoure (18428)

          *golf clap*

        • by Mr Z (6791)

          You can get anything you want, at Alice's Asteroid
          You can get anything you want,
          At Alice's As-ter-oid
          Float right in, orbit's round the back
          Half an AU from the railroad track
          You can get anything you want, at Alice's Asteroid.

      • by epine (68316) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @03:24AM (#42176827)

        Man's pollution on a cosmic scale is essentially zero, the universe is already pre-polluted

        The average density of the universe is about one proton per cubic meter. The vast majority of the visible universe is pristine vacuum. Plus, nearly every galaxy holds at its core a matter-disposal rip-heap of eternal safe-keeping.

        Bear in mind that we now know there's a very small leak into the surrounding environment at around 60 nano-kelvin (*). Before we route too much of our crap to the galactic disposal unit, perhaps we should learn from our mistakes on the slimy blue marble and perform a rigorous environmental impact study on anthropogenic black-hole warming, just in case bumping it up to 61 nano-kelvins triggers a dark matter landslide. (By the "it's all about us, every time, and in every way" anthropic principle, every bulk coefficient of our local environment is fluttering around a precarious and exquisitely tuned value optimal to survival as we presently know it.)

        (*) For simplicity I use the Hawking temperature for a solar mass black hole. From the equation at Wikipedia, this appears to scale inversely with mass. Possibly the right temperature involves division by another factor of 4 million to account for the correct mass of the galactic darth Timbit (local idiom for doughnut hole). I'm getting 15 femto-kelvins without a napkin. Let's not be brash and mess with this number anthropogenically without really thinking things through, to solve some minor problem with space-based pollution in some gossamer filigree of the pristine vacuum.

        One would think it might be easier just to toss our junk in the direction of the Local Void [wikipedia.org]. This, however, amounts to carting your garbage uphill.

        Wikipedia: The Milky Way's velocity away from the Local Void is 270 kilometres per second (600,000 mph). Voids are hugely repulsive.

    • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:16AM (#42176085)

      > Now we are also littering in inter-stellar space.
      >Do you know how freaking big the ticket for this will be?

      Arlo Guthrie might even make a song about it.

      --
      BMO

    • Forget about littering. What if it hits and damages something important to someone? Like kids hurling a sports ball through the neighbor's window?

      An enraged alien will show up on Earth, with the Voyager in its hands, and interrogate us with, "Is this your probe that went through my living room window . . . ?"

      Then we'll be in for some bad shit.

  • It's sad.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rick Zeman (15628)

    ...stories like this just emphasize the major suckitude of the current US space policy in that our current glory is tech from 30 years in the past. What'll we be talking about 30 years in the future?

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:32PM (#42175855) Homepage

    BEEP-BEEEE*squish*EEEeeeeep!

  • by a_hanso (1891616) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:49PM (#42175941) Journal
    35 years and still running (I had a 25 year old Toyota which did the same). What happened to us engineers? Where did we go wrong?
    • by pokoteng (2729771) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:59PM (#42175989)

      What happened to us engineers? Where did we go wrong?

      We started listening to business requirements and started engineering for products that had x year lifespan which happens to be much shorter than older machines.

      Given funding, we can probably make extraordinary machines now that can last for a millennia. We just don't because of cost and customer requirements to constantly upgrade to next new thing and dump the old with lesser features and looks.

    • by shentino (1139071)

      We got vetoed by marketing droids.

      Remember that MS crapware is sold to PHBs who then force it on IT.

    • What happened to us engineers?

      "Professional Management"

      Also, the VC's know that firing the founder is the best way to riches. See: Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, Amazon, WalMart, etc.

    • It didn't make it past 15 years of operation

      The Zwurg captured it, crushed it, and have been spoofing empty space readings back to us to hide the fact we are inside a giant experimental sphere.

      Where voyager would be right now is actually solid lead.

      • by MrKaos (858439)

        It didn't make it past 15 years of operation

        The Zwurg captured it, crushed it, and have been spoofing empty space readings back to us to hide the fact we are inside a giant experimental sphere.

        Where voyager would be right now is actually solid lead.

        Hmmmm, that's interesting. That would put the giant experimental sphere very close to Uranus.

        Still, Voyager was able to take photos of Uranus for all of humanity to see. So if you are right, they probably started spoofing around Uranus then.

    • by readin (838620)
      I'm not sure whether this applies to spacecraft or not, but when it comes to old structures, particularly bridges, roads and buildings that are hundreds or thousands of years old, it might be that the engineers simply didn't know how to safely reduce costs while ensuring the item built didn't collapse in their lifetime. Put yourself in the place of an engineer who is figuring out how much stone you have to use and how long it will take to build. You really don't have any idea since there's no such thing a
    • They all did MBA :D

      • by a_hanso (1891616)

        They all did MBA :D

        This is why I refuse to get one. I do read a lot of business books and periodicals and I'm often involved in management. But I steer clear of anything with the words "strategic", "marketing", "smarter-not-harder", "S.M.A.R.T goals", "empowerment" etc.

        Maybe this is just unique to my industry or my circumstance, but in many ways, when you start thinking like management, you're compromising some of your professional integrity as an engineer. I prefer to get managers to think like engineers instead...

    • by the gnat (153162)

      35 years and still running (I had a 25 year old Toyota which did the same). What happened to us engineers? Where did we go wrong?

      Spirit lasted six years on Mars; Opportunity is nine years and counting. That's a minimum of six years spent rolling around in the sand on a planet with nighttime temperatures well below freezing, without any maintenance. And NASA built two of them. Granted, that was ten years ago, but Curiosity is doing pretty well so far.

      There's no reason why engineers, American, Japanese, or

      • we usually discard computer equipment long before it stops working, simply because it's more efficient to replace it with something much faster that probably costs and weighs less too.

        We also sometimes discard items that could be replaced because replacing them is "less work." My laptop computer was recently experiencing power issues. (It wouldn't recognize that it was plugged in to charge.) My first instinct was "replace it and buy a new one." I fought off that instinct and actually (*gasp*) opened up

    • by XiaoMing (1574363)

      35 years and still running (I had a 25 year old Toyota which did the same). What happened to us engineers? Where did we go wrong?

      As much as I'd like to fogey things up and chalk it up to bean-counters and cost-cutting... Honestly, great technology is what happened (and keeps happening).

      Building something to last is pointless when something twice as good/fast/efficient/what-have-you comes along sooner (and at the same or lower price) than the half-life that your product was designed for.

      This obviously isn't the case for things like clothing or watches or automobiles (or industrial-grade anything), but the tau=1/e of consumer-grade tec

    • I hate to break up your self-loathing session, but cars are a hell of a lot better designed than they were 25 years ago. 25 years ago, a car typically lasted 100,000 miles and generally cost more to maintain that it cost to replace. Today, cars that go through basic maintenance can easily go 200,000 miles. Your 25 year old Toyota is an outlier.

      And Voyager's lasting 35 years isn't that amazing relative to Spirit and Opportunity. Unlike those two rovers, Voyager has a relatively easy and unchanging environmen

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:59PM (#42175987)
    Remember years ago when it was first announced that Voyager was entering interstellar space? There was another announcement a year or two ago and now they are saying it's really really close. When I was growing up NASA was considered the most reliable department the government had. After all the budget cuts they've been so starved for big announcements they keep jumping the gun. I know this wasn't out of NASA but it's still a NASA project. The real news in the last week was Mercury but it got buried under higher profile non stories. It just breaks my heart to see this. If they want news releases give us more rover stories! We've got two functional rovers again on Mars and the older one gets no attention and the new one has been all but forgotten. I've seen some stunning images because I cruise geek sites but the general public sees nothing. NASA has got to get better at playing the press game. People still support Mars exploration but look at the ISS as the poster child for press boondoggles. It's been treated more like a secret military project in the press. It's been fully functional for years but other than stories about possibly abandoning it which started weeks after it was completed when is the last time the regular press had a story about what was actually going on in the space station itself, I'm not talking resupply missions. I'll bet the average person couldn't name a single accomplishment or even test run on the space station. I'd bet most people have completely forgotten about it. What's the point of all the science if no one ever hears about it??? Botched press releases and dead silence is slowly killing NASA.
    • by ipquickly (1562169) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:30AM (#42176135) Homepage

      I was about to make a joke about space expanding, but you raise quite a few valid points.
      If we don't make science "cool" and find ways to get younger generations interested in research and exploration we will be eclipsed by cultures and countries which will find themselves venturing out into space for the first time. They have all our research and experience - as our endeavors are well documented. To this they will add their own technologies and experience. Information might not flow both ways, leaving us at a severe disadvantage.

      By funding science and exploration we are funding our future. Our children are our future and we are leaving them at a disadvantage.

    • by SecurityTheatre (2427858) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @01:43AM (#42176405)

      To be fair, the NASA press releases are usually pretty accurate.

      They did announce that they confirmed entering the heliosheath a few years ago. They confirmed to have crossed the Heliopause last year.

      Now the journalists who write these articles write them as "Voyager entering interstellar space", which isn't entirely inaccurate, since it's a pretty vague concept.

      At least it's still working, and generating discussion...

    • by Rakshasa-sensei (533725) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @04:45AM (#42177075) Homepage

      You are assuming the heliostat is static... It isn't, and it changes a lot depending on magnetic fields.

      If you look at the graphs (that are out there), there was 2-3 temporary drops in the magnetic field and increase in low-energy charged particles. Now it is truly beyond that boundary.

    • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

      Remember years ago when it was first announced that Voyager was entering interstellar space?

      No, I remember reading articles about Voyager crossing the termination shock and the heliosheath. Now we're coming up on the heliopause.

  • by koan (80826)

    I will think a little thought for lonely Voyager.

  • by Sperbels (1008585) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:46AM (#42176203)
    Well, it's been close to entering interstellar space for the last 10 - 15 years. Are they just going to keep re-releasing this story every year?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      NASA today announced they have hired the writers from LOST to write upcoming press releases.

      No seriously I love to think about Voyager. Out there longer than I've been alive, visiting most of our planets, now going interstellar. I like hearing these little stories, that she is still alive and kicking. Theres all that stuff, the record, the plate. You know, when serious scientists like Carl sat around smoked a joint and thought what should we put on it if aliens find it in 100,000 years from now.

      Ther

    • Each year Voyager seems to reach a new marker, but every time the news is announced with the same backstory every time, so it can feel repetitive.
      About 10 years ago it was reaching a fluctuation in the solar wind, wasn't it?
      Then it was confirmed that it was on the outer edge of the heliosheath, where the solar wind turns sideways to fall back in.
      Now it's interstellar particles moving freely.

      • Ah yes, now I remember - a few years ago, Voyager reached the point where the solar winds were no longer supersonic. The zone where that happens is called the termination shock.
        The medium in which Voyager is traveling is changing, and each change is reported. So every time the story seems to be repeated, it is in fact an update, and I say keep 'em coming, JPL.

  • by waynemcdougall (631415) <slashdot@codeworks.gen.nz> on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @03:43AM (#42176897) Homepage

    What sort of commands are we sending?

    "Keep going"
    "Just keep going"
    "Don't turn around and come back"
    "Just a little bit further - just keep going"
    "Nearly there - keep going"

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @04:16AM (#42176989)

    What's with all the complaints? How is this not news for nerds?

    We thought the heliosphere should have ended earlier. It (surprisingly, without sarcasm) hasn't. It's explained within the same summary what the expected metrics for such a boundary should be (a change in the direction of the magnetic field), as well as a quantification of the closeness (that extra-solar particles are making forays into Voyager's sensors) of said boundary.

    Add a dash of the fact that we are able to communicate through outer space with four-decades old technology, and I'm really not seeing what there is to bitch about.

    Oh and the Mars rover? Yeah it's still being analyzed whether the "complex hydrocarbons" are actually organic compounds, just like how it was still being analyzed whether the timing glitch in the LHC was a violation of general relativity. That is speculation, it's not news (at least not for nerds).

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