The incredible journey of the Voyager 1 probe: the odyssey that celebrated its 10th anniversary outside our solar system

The incredible journey of the Voyager 1 probe: the odyssey that celebrated its 10th anniversary outside our solar system

NASA’s venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched 45 years ago, marks 10 years outside the solar system (REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout)

Traveler. Never so good put a name to a spacecraft that appears to have no expiration date and no completion point in its mission through the Universe.

The venerable spaceship Traveler 1 from NASA, launched 45 years ago just weeks after its twin Voyager 2 celebrated 10 years outside our solar system and still sends data back to Earth, although it is currently over 23.5 billion kilometres.

When August 25, 2012the spacecraft was 18,000 million kilometers from the Sun, or 122 astronomical units (AU), scientists determined that the venerable Voyager 1 had crossed the boundary between the Sun’s influence and the interstellar medium.. One AU is the average distance between the Earth and the sun and is approximately 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers. Now, still running and regularly returning data, Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, which joined her in interstellar space in 2018, they continue to move forward in space and do totally innovative science.

    Scientists predict that the interstellar probe will reach 1,000 AU - 1 AU is the distance from the sun to Earth - in the interstellar medium.  (JOHNS HOPKINS APL)
Scientists predict that the interstellar probe will reach 1,000 AU – 1 AU is the distance from the sun to Earth – in the interstellar medium. (JOHNS HOPKINS APL)

Both spacecraft were designed to travel beyond Jupiter and Saturn, taking advantage of a favorable solar system alignment.. Voyager 2 also visited Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager 1 prioritized Saturn’s giant moon Titan. At the time, no one expected spacecraft to still work more than four decades later. But now the Voyagers are going for 50 years in space. In particular, Voyager 1 is more than 157 times the distance between our planet and the sun, traveling outward at a speed of 60,000 km/h.

“Today, as the two Voyagers explore interstellar space, they provide humanity with observations of uncharted territory,” he said in a statement. Linda Spilker, Voyager Project Associate Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. “No one expected Voyager to leave the interstellar medium. They had a lifespan of five years which was extended for five years and then for 10 years, but no one really thought they would leave the solar system,” added expert Merav Opher, an astronomer from the University. from Boston who runs a center called SHIELD that is examining Voyager data in an effort to learn more about the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that surrounds us and that could have implications for our understanding of life on Earth. Earth.

“They had a five-year shelf life that was extended for five years and then for 10 years, but no one really thought they would leave the solar system,” he added.

After the 1977 launch, mission milestones came quickly. Voyager 1 first saw Jupiter in April 1978 and made its closest approach to the massive planet in March 1979. The spacecraft also sighted Jupiter’s moons, including Io, with their eerie volcanic surface. The probe then headed for Saturn and its largest moon, Titan, performing its flyby in November 1979, just over two years after launch. Diverting Voyager 1 to take a closer look at Titan meant there were no more flybys. Instead, its sister ship, Voyager 2, continued to sail towards Uranus and Neptune.

Voyager 1 became the most distant man-made object in 1998. according to NASA when it marked 100 times the distance from Earth to the Sun in 2006. In 2012, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, the region beyond the heliosphere, which is the bubble made up of charged particles constantly streaming from the sun into space. Beyond the heliosphere, the spacecraft registers many more cosmic rays (fragments of atoms gliding through space) than solar particles.

This is the first time that we have been able to directly study how a star, our sun, interacts with particles and magnetic fields outside our heliosphere.which helps scientists understand the local neighborhood between stars, upending some of the theories about this region and providing key insights for future missions,” Spilker said.

No one expected spacecraft to continue working more than four decades after liftoff (NASA)
No one expected spacecraft to continue working more than four decades after liftoff (NASA)

Voyager 1 and 2 data on magnetic fields in the heliopause have scientists baffled. There should have been a lag where the sun’s magnetic field met that of space, and theorists expected the galaxy’s magnetic field to be tilted toward the sun’s magnetic field. But neither Voyager 1 nor Voyager 2 detected changes in the direction of the magnetic field.

When Voyager crossed, there was no change in angle. The magnetic field remained almost like the solar, without rotationOpher said. It’s still a puzzle, but Opher and his collaborators have a theory about magnetic field flux tubes in the heliopause connecting the solar field to the interstellar field. “It’s almost like there are these highways for particles to go in and out of the heliosphere,” he said, adding that this is likely a region where the magnetic field is reconnecting.

The heliopause appears to be the distorted surface of the heliosphere responding to solar activity, but the reason for this remains an open question. Although four Voyager 1 instruments are still collecting data to send back to Earth, mission staff anticipate having to shut down additional instruments over time and the probe’s nuclear power source weakens. Eventually, the twin probes will become silent, though they will continue to travel through space for billions of years.

The probe visited Saturn and its largest moon, Titan (NASA)
The probe visited Saturn and its largest moon, Titan (NASA)

Travelers continued to make amazing discoveries, inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers. We don’t know how long the mission will continue, but we can be sure that the spacecraft will provide even more scientific surprises as it moves away from Earth,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at JPL. The “silent ambassadors” will eventually will fall silent when they enter what scientists call the pristine interstellar medium. As the Sun’s influence fades and there is less turbulence, the probes are likely to pick up a mixture of material from other stars.

However, detecting the influence of the next star is beyond the spacecraft. Voyager 1 will approach a star in the constellation Camelopardalis called AC+79 3888. in 40,000 years, while Voyager 2 has about the same flight time as a star called Ross 248 in the constellation Andromeda. Now that both spacecraft are ending their useful lives as their power supplies run out, the last time scientists will hear from them will likely be in the 2030s at best, NASA mission staff said.

Voyager 1 Gold Records
Voyager 1 Gold Records

For scientists who study the heliosphere, the next space probe of interest will be New Horizons, the spacecraft that photographed Pluto in 2015. New Horizons will enter the heliopause around 2030, but its power supply won’t last beyond the end of 2030. “There’s nothing like in situ data to reveal a new world, and Voyager has helped to redefine what we understand about the heliosphere,” said Opher, who believes the heliosphere has protected life on Earth from dangerous cosmic rays and dust. He also believes that the position of the solar system in the interstellar medium has been vitally important in supporting life.

Voyager 1 in particular has something to celebrate with this anniversary, as NASA recently managed to resolve an issue that had caused the spacecraft to rely on a single computer to communicate, leading the probe to send incomprehensible data back to the Earth. Although mission personnel have put the spacecraft back on track, they are still investigating what triggered the change.

The last communication with Voyager should take place in 2030 (NASA)
The last communication with Voyager should take place in 2030 (NASA)

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