Tuesday, 23 October, 2018

NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

Graphic showing position of Voyager 1 and 2 probes relative to the heliosphere a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto NASA’s space probe nearing interstellar space
Cary Marshall | 11 October, 2018, 00:27

In a statement, NASA said: 'Since late August, the Cosmic Ray Subsytem instrument on Voyager 2 has measured about a 5 percent increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft compared to early August. It's traveled about 11 billion miles (17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth since it launched in 1977, and spent three decades cruising through space before finally reaching the outermost layer of our heliosphere - the massive bubble, created by the sun's solar wind, that encompasses the Sun, its planets and regions far beyond their orbits.

There is no guarantee Voyager 2, which is in a different location in the heliosheath (the outer region of the heliosphere) than Voyager 1, will reach the same milestone any time soon. It is being closely watched to record the time at which it reaches geologos - limits heliosphere, where solar wind speed drops to nearly zero. After Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere and into the heliopause, it will be the only second object that originated from Earth, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar space.

Researchers noticed a similar spike in the cosmic rays when Voyager 1 was able to traverse the heliopause but Voyager 2 experiencing the same isn't the sole indicator that could help us detect if it is in the interstellar space or not because the space is ever-expanding and therefore, researchers have estimated that Voyager 2 must reach the interstellar space sometime before 2030. Voyager 1 was confirmed to have entered interstellar space back in September of 2013, 36-years after its launch.

Voyager 2 was launched in 1977 and is now located a little under 11 billion miles from Earth, which is more than 118 times the distance between Earth and the sun. And based on recent data, Voyager 2 is starting to make some headway.

Apart from the Voyager 2, three other spacecraft are on interstellar trajectories.

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The team notes that the heliopause moves inward and outward during the 11-year activity cycle of the sun.

In May 2012, Voyager 1 also picked up an increase in the rate of cosmic rays similar to the increase its sibling Voyager 2 is detecting now. However, when exactly it will reach the heliopause (beyond where the waning solar wind), scientists do not know. "We're not there yet that is one thing I can say with confidence".

Both Voyager spacecraft were built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, managed by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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