Voyager Discovers Magnetic Highway To The Stars
After 35 years and 11.5 billion miles, Voyager I has made a new discovery on its last stop before entering the region of space between the stars – interstellar space. Travelling at a speed of 37,000 miles per hour, the speedy craft has been observing changes in the magnetic fields and solar winds surrounding the craft.
Voyager entered the last known part of the solar system in 2004. A region of space surrounding the sun called the heliosphere where it recently discovered strange 100 million mile magnetic field bubbles produced by the spin of the sun.
Last month, scientists found further evidence that Voyager has begun to leave the solar system. Rapid increases in the number of outside solar particles suggested Voyager was approaching interstellar space but the Voyager had yet another surprise awaiting for scientists.
Yesterday, it was announced that scientists believe Voyager has entered a new region of space referred to as a “magnetic highway” for charged particles because our sun’s magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines.
According to NASA
“This connection allows lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere — or the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself — to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outside to stream in. Before entering this region, the charged particles bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere.”
However, the magnetic field lines still point inward toward the Sun indicating Voyager is still within the confines of the solar system. The new findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Monday.
Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena said
“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.”
“If we were judging by the charged particle data alone, I would have thought we were outside the heliosphere,”
said Stamatios Krimigis, principal investigator of the low-energy charged particle instrument, based at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
“But we need to look at what all the instruments are telling us and only time will tell whether our interpretations about this frontier are correct.”
Leonard Burlaga, a Voyager magnetometer team member based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
“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,”
“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.”
After leaving our solar system, Voyager will begin a 38,260 year journey to come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) called AC+79 3888. However, the journey won’t be lonely. For the next 14,000 years, Voyager will still be surrounded by objects that are influenced by the Sun’s gravity. Voyager has already past through the first of these regions referred to as the Kuiper Belt (2.5-4.6 billion miles away from the Sun) and part of a region referred to as Scattered Disk Objects that extends out to the Hills Cloud which is a 190 billion to 1.1 trillion miles away from the Sun. The Hills Cloud is the inner part of the Oort cloud that may extend to as far as 5 trillion miles away from the Sun.
The above video is a brief mission update of the new magnetic highway discovery. The below video gives a complete overview of the mission as of last month.
NASA Voyager Humanity’s Farthest Journey
by Todd Miller
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