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NASA Space Science

Voyager 1 Officially Exits Our Solar System 237

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-forget-to-write dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new study released today (abstract) indicates that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has become the first man-made object to exit our solar system. Instrumentation data sent back to NASA indicate the historic event likely occurred on August 25, 2012, evidenced by drastic changes in radiation levels as the craft ventured past the heliopause. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Voyager 1 has actually made it to true interstellar space, or whether it has entered a separate, undefined region beyond our solar system. Either way, the achievement is truly monumental. 'It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that. We're in a new region,' said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. 'And everything we're measuring is different and exciting.'" Update: 03/20 20:44 GMT by S : Reader skade88 points out that the JPL Voyager team is not so sure: "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed." So we'll probably be hearing about this again in a couple years.
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Voyager 1 Officially Exits Our Solar System

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  • by Looker_Device (2857489) * on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:05PM (#43225777)

    I would say that "true interstellar space" was "outside the gravitational effect of our sun" but, technically, that's nowhere in the universe.

    • Re:Hard to define (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:09PM (#43225817)

      The edge of the solar system is considered by many to be the Oort cloud. That's about 1 light year from the Sun, and Voyager is not even remotely close.

    • by tragedy (27079)

      Well, unless the universe does collapse someday, there should be parts of the universe that are being expanded away from us faster than the speed of light, which is also supposed to be the speed of gravity. We will never be able to observe those parts of the universe though.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      I'd say if it was outside of our star's sphere of influence [wikipedia.org], then it would be in interstellar space (assuming it was not in another star's sphere of influence)

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      3rd article in past half year with same subject.

  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:07PM (#43225787) Homepage Journal

    V'ger overlord!

  • by ravenswood1000 (543817) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:09PM (#43225807)
    You did really well.
    • And good luck in the new frontier
    • And watch out for those Kazons, Hirogens and Borgs.

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      This is nothing. Voyager is going to be pulled into the Delta quadrant soon.

    • by nanospook (521118)
      So long and thanks for all the fish!
  • by sconeu (64226) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:10PM (#43225823) Homepage Journal

    Of course, neither probe in the ST movies was Voyager 1.

    ST:TMP was Voyager 6
    STV:TFF was either Pioneer 10 or Pioneer 11.

  • Not so fast (Score:5, Informative)

    by sighted (851500) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:12PM (#43225847) Homepage
    The Voyager project's chief scientist says not just yet: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-107 [nasa.gov] Also, here's a fairly recent video lecture he gave on the topic that gives some good details: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.cfm?year=2012&month=9 [nasa.gov]
    • by Grayhand (2610049)

      The Voyager project's chief scientist says not just yet: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-107 [nasa.gov] Also, here's a fairly recent video lecture he gave on the topic that gives some good details: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures_archive.cfm?year=2012&month=9 [nasa.gov]

      What is this the third time we had a story about it leaving the solar system? Some include the Oort Cloud in the solar system so are we facing hundreds of years of these announcements?

      • "We are in a magnetic region unlike any we've been in before -- about 10 times more intense than before the termination shock -- but the magnetic field data show no indication we're in interstellar space," said Leonard Burlaga, a Voyager magnetometer team member based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The magnetic field data turned out to be the key to pinpointing when we crossed the termination shock. And we expect these data will tell us when we first reach interstellar space."

        ht [nasa.gov]
      • Use an Outlook email rule to move the notices to your Trash. Cuz Outlook will likely outlast Voyager... ;-)
      • by dgatwood (11270)

        What is this the third time we had a story about it leaving the solar system? Some include the Oort Cloud in the solar system so are we facing hundreds of years of these announcements?

        No. We'd be facing thousands of years of these announcements. From NASA [nasa.gov]:

        Sometime before the year 2020, Voyager 1 will become the first spacecraft to cross the heliopause-the outer boundary of the vast region of space dominated by the solar wind and the sun's magnetic field-and reach interstellar space. In that sense, it can

    • Latter Day Voyager One-ist: "I respect your beliefs but I must disagree. Two thousand years ago, Voyager One did not exit the solar system on the 35th year of our Lord 12,980 days after His Holy Launch. It would not be until ..."
      Reformed Good Gamma Rays Church of the Accurate Voyager One-ist: "HERESY! Where I come from, we have reserved black holes for the likes of your foul and vile lie spreading mouth. Prepare for battle and death ..."
      Latter Day Voyager One-ist: "But I am merely repeating the preachings of Voyager One's one true manager, Edward Stone, who is one and the same with Voyager One!"
      Reformed Good Gamma Rays Church of the Accurate Voyager One-ist: "Your Edward Stone was a false prophet and copycat of the original true manager that is lost to the ages!"
      Latter Day Voyager One-ist: "Impossible, it was written that the oracle confirmed His information before being unplugged."
      Reformed Good Gamma Rays Church of the Accurate Voyager One-ist: "How dare you bear false witness against the Wayback Machine (Voyager rest its all knowing soul)?!"
      Latter Day Voyager One-ist: "Ask any Unified Voyager Two-ist, they agree with our views ..."
      Unified Voyager Two-ist: "Okay, everybody, drink your kool-aid now ... the ghost of Voyager Two should be passing by this space station in the next few minutes. We will ride it all to that great ground control center in deep space!!!"
  • Must be Wednesday (Score:5, Insightful)

    by justthinkit (954982) <floyd@just-think-it.com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:13PM (#43225853) Homepage Journal
    Seems like every week we are celebrating Voyageur's exit from the Solar System.
    .

    What I don't understand is why the linked stories don't mention how big a change in radiation was experienced. Are we talking 10%, or a factor of 10? How about a curve while we are at it -- could be it is gradual, could be sharp, could be a hockey stick -- curve us please.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:26PM (#43225995)

    Sorry if this sounds dumb to some of the astronomy cracks, but from what I gathered so far from astrophysics is that there are different speeds for leaving the "area" of a body. IIRC it is called the sphere of influence, where a certain celestial body is the one that affects me the most. Like here on Earth, obviously, it's that planet, despite the Sun being a LOT bigger and hence having a lot more gravity, but since I'm sitting on that rock, Earth is it for me. Now, when thrusting away from Earth, at some point I leave its SOI and the Sun will take over as the main body defining my "main body" towards I move relatively. And provided I do not end up in the SOI of any of the planets or moons in our solar system, that's how it's going to stay until I am so far away from the sun that something else will be my frame of reference.

    So wouldn't "leaving the system" technically require exactly that? That I enter another body (or bodies) sphere of influence? And, another thing, does Voyager actually have enough push to leave the system for good? As far as I know it does take quite a bit more oumph to leave the Sun's SOI than Earth's.

    • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:39PM (#43226145)
      I'm no astronomer, but I think what you call the "sphere of influence" is properly termed the "Hill sphere" [wikipedia.org]. It does raise an interesting question all the same: which star will be the next one that Voyager ends up being attracted to?
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Couldn't the galaxy itself be a SOI?

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          As well, the SOI [wikipedia.org] is a discrete thing, similar to the Hill Sphere. I suppose they are just different ways of looking at the same thing.

    • Gravity works over practically infinite distance. It just gets so small as to be negligible. There's a point where the gravity from the Sun is no longer as powerful as the gravity from the rest of the universe and I'd say that's the point at which it's SOI realistically ends.

      Voyager is moving *much* faster than it did when it left Earth. Using gravitational slingshots around the various gas giants allows it to add significant speed. I believe it's something like 10 miles per second currently.
    • by Morgaine (4316) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:01PM (#43227641)

      To clear up any possible confusion, Voyager 1 doesn't need to enter the "sphere of influence" of another body to avoid falling back to the Sun. It has already escaped the Sun's gravitational field, long ago and by a large factor.

      On September 9, 2012, Voyager 1 was measured to be 121.798 AU from the Sun and traveling at 17.043 km/s. At that distance, the escape velocity from the Sun is only 3.817 km/s, which Voyager 1's speed exceeds handsomely.

      The dear thing isn't coming back, at least not without help. :-)

  • Longevity. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:35PM (#43226101)
    The fact that this was launched in 1977 and is still operating 36 years later -- 33 years after its primary mission (Jupiter, Saturn encounter) ended in 1980 -- is an achievement in itself and testament to its design and build quality. According to Voyager 1 [wikipedia.org] the 3 RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) on Voyager 1 will continue to provide sufficient power for some operations until around 2025.
    • Largely its travelling through a vacuum, given the thing didn't explode seconds after it was released from the rocket, I'd say 36 years of travelling through a vacuum to be on par with expectations.

      This is not like slamming a rover onto another planet with harsh temperature, wind and dust conditions and having it work 10 times longer then its original mission specs.

    • by antdude (79039)

      So it was supposed to fail in the 1980s/80s? :O

    • Little known facts about Voyager:

      • Carl Segan formed Voyager purely out of his own mental energy
      • The gold record carried by Voyager was designed and recorded by John Denver while on the set of the Muppet Show
      • Jimmy Carter hurled Voyager off Earth with his own bare hands
  • Heliopause (Score:5, Funny)

    by Curate (783077) <craigbarkhouse@hotmail.com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:44PM (#43226203)
    I hadn't realized our sun was in heliopause. That explains the hot flashes.
  • F**k, there's nothing out here! They lied to meeeeeeeeeeee...

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @03:00PM (#43226381)

    No, it wasn't the Eniac.

    "There are three different computer types on the Voyager spacecraft and there are two of each kind. Total number of words among the six computers is about 32K."*

    [*] - http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/faq.html [nasa.gov]

    • by slew (2918)

      A bit more info for history buffs...

      Originially, there was some thought given to the tradeoff between a single centralized computer, and a distributed computing architecture. After much analysis, the 3 dual-computer configuration was selected.

      The CCS (computer command system) is essentially identical to the computer used in viking.
      The AACS (attitude and articulation control system) is sort of a souped up version of the CCS (higher clockrate, added "index" registers + a few opcodes)
      The FDS (flight-data sub-

  • I'd like to see a good diagram of what its general path was and where it is now in relation to other planet orbits if anyone knows where I can find one.

  • You know, when Voyager clangs off a giant glass shell with star lightbulbs screwed into it. NASA's going to be pissed, but I bet I'll get $80 out of it!

  • by jitterman (987991) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @03:21PM (#43226605)
    I've wondered, would it benefit us in any way to send something out perpendicular to the orbital plane? I realize you don't get to swing by points of interest, and you don't get the slingshot effect of doing so either, but still, just curious. Thoughts?
    • by PhotoJim (813785)

      The sun's effects might be different in polar directions versus equatorially - it might be interesting to learn. However, only captured objects would orbit the sun in such directions so until we can get into interstellar space quickly, there's likely little benefit in going in such directions.

  • "My God, it's full of stars!"

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