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Voyager 1 Finds Unexpected Wrinkles At the Edge Of the Solar System 164

Posted by timothy
from the damn-thetans-are-playing-with-us dept.
Voyager 1 has been close to the boundary of the solar system for quite a while; we've mentioned that the edge is near a few times before, including an evidently premature report in 2010 that Voyager had reached a distance so far from the sun that it could no longer detect solar winds and another in 2011 that it had reached an "outer shell" of solar influence. It turns out that the boundaries of the solar system are fuzzier than once anticipated; the L.A. Times is reporting that "Toward the end of July 2012, Voyager 1's instruments reported that solar winds had suddenly dropped by half, while the strength of the magnetic field almost doubled, according to the studies. Those values then switched back and forth five times before they became fixed on Aug. 25. Since then, solar winds have all but disappeared, but the direction of the magnetic field has barely budged." Also at Wired, which notes "That's hard to explain because the galaxy's magnetic field is thought to be inclined 60 degrees from the sun's field. No one is entirely sure what's going on. ... [It's] almost as if Voyager thought it was going outside but instead found itself standing in the foyer of the sun's home with an open door that allows wind to blow in from the galaxy."
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Voyager 1 Finds Unexpected Wrinkles At the Edge Of the Solar System

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  • XKCD (Score:5, Funny)

    by NobleSavage (582615) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:33AM (#44146979)
    Obligatory XKCD [xkcd.com]
    • Re: XKCD (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tysonedwards (969693) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:02AM (#44147093)
      The only thing that is shocking to me is the belief amidst the cited astrophysicists that once passing the heliosheath that there would be "uniform, high intensity cosmic radiation" as opposed to "non-uniform directional radiation". Our solar system is a very tiny dot versus a ginormous amalgamation of radiation sources at the center of our galaxy. It seems HIGHLY intuitive that the center of our galaxy would be a single, highly directional radiation source that would dwarf the very distant radiation sources.
      • by khallow (566160)
        The gas clouds, which we see around us, would have been blown away by a single, highly directional radiation source strong enough to manifest here.
        • Perhaps that is just the fallacy of thinking of atoms and particles interchangeably, all the while ignoring the enormous gravity field in very close proximity.
          • by khallow (566160)

            Perhaps that is just the fallacy of thinking of atoms and particles interchangeably, all the while ignoring the enormous gravity field in very close proximity.

            No, I don't think that's even relevant here. Radiation pressure is well known to push gas around, the heliosphere is a great example of this and we see similar examples around other stars. If there were such a highly directional radiation source dominating our interstellar environment, it would have pushed away from the galactic center the gas clouds we see around us. Since they still are here, then we don't have such an environment.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              It's interesting to contrast theoretical conversations about the interstellar medium against actual observations by radio astronomers of HI hydrogen gas at the 21-cm wavelength. Gerrit Verschuur has spent a lifetime mapping out the interstellar HI hydrogen, and the observational picture which he paints in his numerous papers and handful of books on this subject is -- truth be told -- that the interstellar "clouds" are not at all cloud-like. They are rather extraordinarily filamentary, and the filaments ex

              • by khallow (566160)

                It's interesting to contrast theoretical conversations about the interstellar medium against actual observations by radio astronomers of HI hydrogen gas at the 21-cm wavelength.

                No theoretical conversation here. I'm quite aware of and have seen the vast clouds of matter that lie around us, including the space between us and the center of the Milky Way. A decent telescope will show you this.

              • by khallow (566160)

                At some point, it might just make sense to wonder if the filaments that are being observed in interstellar space have an electromagnetic origin, akin to that of a novelty plasma globe. It's unfortunate that theorists seem to go to such great lengths to avoid investigating that possibility.

                Theorists have to match their theory to observation. All you have for your claim here is "filaments" which would occur just due to the combination of gravity, supernova, and photon radiation pressure of normal stars. You need something more, say like actual measurements of the field strength of the EM fields allegedly creating these filaments.

        • by DoninIN (115418)
          Most things in nature are chaotic, the tiniest variations and deviations from the purely uniform in the starting conditions can lead to great irregularities in the final state of the system. I hadn't given much though to the matter of the heliopause, but I think a little thought would have lead you to expect it to look like a snowflake, or a raisin, or maybe a supernova, galaxy or nebula, rather than a light bulb, other than the rainbow which was put there by the almighty as a promise to not end the world a
          • Re: XKCD (Score:4, Informative)

            by khallow (566160) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:23PM (#44150459)

            other than the rainbow which was put there by the almighty as a promise to not end the world again by flood most natural phenomena are pretty irregular, aren't they?

            The rainbow is part of the Bifrost bridge connecting Midgar (Earth) to Valhalla. Any alternate interpretation is vile propaganda spread by Christian heretics trying to sap our precious bodily fluids and turn us away from honor.

            • by mwvdlee (775178)

              The rainbow is merely a mode of transport of the cheese-hole cutting god Iris. Any other "religious" significance of the rainbow is blasphemy. May Zeus have mercy on your heathen soul!

            • by ikeman32 (1333971)

              The rainbow is part of the Bifrost bridge connecting Midgar (Earth) to Valhalla. Any alternate interpretation is vile propaganda spread by Christian heretics trying to sap our precious bodily fluids and turn us away from honor.

              Actually the Bifrost connects Midgard to Asgard. Valhalla is akin to a castle or palace for the Allfather a.k.a. Odin. Only one-half of the souls of the slain go to Valhalla the other half go to Freya's field called Folkvangr. Both at located in Asgard. I would mod you down but since I posted here I can't do that. Norse Mythology lesson concluded, carry on.

      • Re: XKCD (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 30, 2013 @12:31PM (#44147799)

        Our solar system is a very tiny dot versus a ginormous amalgamation of radiation sources at the center of our galaxy.

        Actually, by analysis of cyclotron emissions, there are plenty of far more local galactic cosmic ray sources. The problem with something like Sagitarrius A* or something else near the center of the galaxy, is that is very far way for the energy scales being measured. Because cosmic rays are charged particles and there is a background magnetic field in the galaxy, such particles could not make a straight line from the center of the galaxy to here and instead would be trapped and susceptible to interaction with things in between. Even when you get into the TeV range of particles (the ones voyager was looking at was 2 MeV to 600 MeV), the gyroradius is on the order of dozens of AU.

        This problem means that except at the highest of energies for extra-galactic cosmic rays, the direction of cosmic rays are scrambled and not pointing back to their source. The distribution of galactic cosmic rays has more to do with the magnetic field structure in the near by neighborhood. Additionally, in this case here, it has a lot to do with the interaction of high energy particles and shock waves in plasma, which is still a big, active area of research. This would determine how much is emitted or blocked by the heliosheath, but would also still depend on the structure of the area which is quite turbulent. An understanding of the interaction between the solar wind, very local sources like other near by stars and previous novas in the area is what this will come down to, and very little to do with the center of the galaxy.

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          QUESTION! Possibly stupid, because I am a layman when it comes to this stuff.

          If cosmic rays get bent all around like this, why do we get such a sensible picture from lower energy stuff around visible light? (radio, infrared, visual, uv) I would expect the lower energy stuff to be even more affected.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        The center of the galaxy being the direction source is about as intuitive of an answer as saying a fire hose at the center of a hurricane is why you see rain coming from one direction when you are hundreds of kilometers away from the center. In other words, it would be the exact opposite of intuitive, considering such particles wouldn't make it here even if the galactic magnetic field were many, many times weaker than we thought.
      • Hmm. I'm more interested in the "Stranger yet, Voyager 1 detected an increase in galactic cosmic rays — but found that at times they were moving in parallel instead of traveling randomly." comment. Moving in parallel to what, exactly? Voyager?

        Still, sounds pretty fricking awesome. Damn shame we can't be out there ourselves.

    • Re:XKCD (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:35AM (#44147263)
      Funny drawing. But it seems the problem here is the interpretation of the Voyager's data. Not the probes that still do a magnificent job. I've always been fascinated how the Voyagers did/do a great job since 1977. Starting by providing really amazing pictures of our "external planets", following a smart path (that could have been even more awesome [wikipedia.org] if budget wouldn't have been reduced) now they're still able to work and communicate successfully with Earth, from a 120+ AU distance, thanks to a 1977 technology.
      • by Nyder (754090)

        Funny drawing. But it seems the problem here is the interpretation of the Voyager's data. Not the probes that still do a magnificent job. I've always been fascinated how the Voyagers did/do a great job since 1977. Starting by providing really amazing pictures of our "external planets", following a smart path (that could have been even more awesome [wikipedia.org] if budget wouldn't have been reduced) now they're still able to work and communicate successfully with Earth, from a 120+ AU distance, thanks to a 1977 technology.

        I'm going to point out that made things to last in the 1970's. We don't do that anymore.

    • by iggymanz (596061)

      it is believed the Oort cloud goes out to almost a light-year, so by that definition of "extent of solar system" Voyager won't be leaving in our lifetimes, not for thousands of years.

    • I did a search of the thread for VGER and got no hits.

      Where did all the nerds on this site go?

    • When Voyager approaches the edge of the universe, get back to me, please and thank you
  • by neoshroom (324937) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:34AM (#44146983)
    Unexpected? You didn't think something 4.5 billion years old would have a few wrinkles?
  • Don't worry (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @09:57AM (#44147063)
    Vejur will be back
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I think you mean "V ger". And, if I'm not mistaken, it was Voyager VI, which never actually existed. NASA only ever made Voyager I and II. And apparently slashdot doesn't let me put in multiple spaces, even if I use the HTML entity.
      • by fnj (64210)

        ...Voyager VI, which never actually existed. NASA only ever made Voyager I and II

        So you think NASA is done building Voyagers for all time? You may be right, but I wouldn't rule out the rice voyagers, and maybe at some point the Persian, Indian, or African voyagers.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        They took that out to slay the ASCII-art trolls.

        Now, instead of just drawing dicks with symbols, they write up grand stories about them instead.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    voyager has reached the edge of the petri dish.....

  • Not too surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr Z (6791) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @10:13AM (#44147131) Homepage Journal

    Someone else (who I think I saw here on Slashdot the last time Voyager was mentioned) had a great analogy for what we're likely seeing. I can't take credit for this at all, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

    Suppose we're a small probe, making our way off an island, down the beach, and into the ocean. All we have is a wind-speed detector, and a water detector. As we near the water, waves start lapping over us. When they do, our wind-speed detector says "no wind", and our water detector says "we're wet." Have we entered the ocean yet? The answer is "not quite, but we're really darn close."

    It doesn't seem surprising to me at all that the boundary neither perfectly uniform, nor stationary in time. I think we'll be in this transition band for a while.

    • by fermion (181285)
      What we are likely seeing is that the models we have created are incorrect. In science it is very important to be able to take in new data that is contradictory to the model. Now, it is true that V1, as it is refereed to in the papers, is only a single data point. We will have to send out other probes to confirm what the edge of our solar system is. V2 is not likely to survive long enough to give us a second data point. However, the IBEX is collected data and corroborating what V! is detecting.

      So ther

    • by Raenex (947668)

      This analogy is terrible. Is the island generating its own wind, apart from an incoming wind? Is it generating a field that would interact with those winds? If you want to understand what is going on, then you need appropriate models, not toy analogies.

  • We are but observers of a universe that doesn't talk. A comment in a previous article put it best (paraphrasing): I hope it smashes into a wall to leave us guessing.
  • I'm happy that there is still an active remnant of the "cock & balls" NASA out there that is still exploring our universe and showing the world how it's done.
  • How do we know it is the same magnetic field affecting V I?
  • Be sure to the subject line on posters...!
  • It just stopped moving one day.

    Then my theory that we are just a form of entertainment like The Truman Show http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120382/ [imdb.com] to another form of life.
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      The owners are having trouble building out the set fast enough to keep up with Voyager.

  • These are incredibly weak influences that require unimaginable distances to have a cumulative effect. Like gas clouds that are essentially 99.9999% the same as "empty" space, but over tens of millions of miles you build up a black wall like a pointillist painting.

    We are ants with a theory of 10 foot waves, and then are shocked to see one isn't glass smooth to the widh of our little foot.

    tl;dr Shit be swirlin yo.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday June 30, 2013 @02:25PM (#44148361) Homepage Journal

    It reminds me of my kids:

    Kids: "Are we there yet?"

    Me: "No."

    Kids: "Are we there yet?"

    Me: "No! Stop asking!"

    Kids: "Are we there yet?"

    Me: "I don't know, we are hell fucking lost!"

    Kids: "Dad, you shouldn't cuss."

    Me: "Shuddup! I'm trying to concentrate!"

  • Reached the edge of the simulation?

  • So you're telling me there's wrinkles outside Uranus ?
  • ... is old and wrinkled. And is yelling at Voyager to stay off its lawn.

  • They hit the edge of the holodeck or matrix, lol.
  • It's the edge of the simulation that has not been rendered properly yet. Cf. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirteenth_Floor [wikipedia.org].
  • Purpose built industrial system. Potentially unreliable data being reported. OMG Stuxnet got to it.

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