Published: Thu, December 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Laverne Osborne

NASA's Voyager 2 reaches interstellar space - 11 billion miles from earth

NASA's Voyager 2 reaches interstellar space - 11 billion miles from earth

The twins are the only two spacecraft ever to venture so far from home. On November 5, 2018, instruments aboard NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft sent back data indicating the craft had crossed the heliopause. Today NASA announced that on November 5, researchers saw a steep drop-off in the speeds of solar winds around the probe.

According to Nasa, the Voyagers are still technically in our solar system.

"Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we're seeing is new", John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in a statement.

Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed a different part of this boundary in 2012. Whereas the latter traveled out of the heliosphere's northern hemisphere (the planet-filled ecliptic plane is the equator), Voyager 2 is heading out of the southern hemisphere.

For 41 years research flight of each of the probes flew more than 18 billion kilometers from Earth.

The probes are now "senior citizens", but they're in "good health" considering their age, Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said Monday.

Voyager's mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft.

But once the Voyagers' main missions ended, the nuclear-powered robots kept going.

Voyager 2 was launched in August 20, 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1 and both were tasked with touring the outer solar system's planets.

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The solar system and beyond.

Voyager 2 may be freshly interstellar, but it won't be anywhere near another star until 40,000 years from now, when it will pass within 1.7 light-years of the small red dwarf star Ross 248.

The nearest star beyond the sun, Proxima Centauri, is about 4.2 light-years or 268,770 AU away. It is possible that in coming years, as the sun reaches the peak of its roughly 11-year activity cycle, its outbursts could push the heliopause farther out again, perhaps even beyond Voyager 2.

Voyager 2 carries something unique: the Plasma Science Experiment instrument.

No one is sure how big the Oort Cloud is, but estimates suggest it starts at about 1,000 Earth-sun distances, or astronomical units (AU), and stretches out to about 100,000 AU. "One kind of feels like a lucky fluke", says Justin Kasper, a scientist involved in the Voyager missions from the University of MI in Ann Arbor. Travelling at 34,000mph (54,000 km/h) Voyager 2 is now more than 11bn miles (18bn kilometres) from Earth.

But until then, long may the explorations continue.

This marks the second time in human history that a human-made object has traveled this far. In 2013, it became the first spacecraft to leave the heliosphere and cross into interstellar space.

"That's an incredible journey for this unbelievable little ... spacecraft".

NASA has confirmed that Voyager 2 exited the heliosphere which is the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun. Each alien solar system is nestled in its own equivalent of a heliosphere, pushing out against its own local interstellar space.

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