New Insights Emerge About Voyager 1's Epic Journey to the Edge

Illustration for article titled New Insights Emerge About Voyager 1s Epic Journey to the Edge

The Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered into a turbulent and dynamic region of space that's once again resetting our notions of what's out there at the edge of the solar system.


Late last year the Voyager 1 spacecraft entered into the so-called magnetic highway, and now we're learning a bit more about this surprisingly dynamic region of the outer solar system. According to three new papers published in Science (here, here, and here), the line that separates the area dominated by the Sun's influence from the region where solar wind mixes turbulently with interstellar gas is not as clear-cut as previously thought.


Voyager 1, which is now over 18 billion kilometers away (holy crap that's far), is skipping through the edge of yet another segment of the helioshealth, which is a kind of magnetic bubble. The new region has been dubbed the heliospheric depletion region, and Voyager 1 crossed in and out of this boundary five times last year. This would indicate that the boundary separating the solar system from outer space is not uniform, but is instead rippled and turbulent.

As Voyager 1 moves through this region, its measurements of the number of charged particles from the Sun rises and falls dramatically. And as the ion counts drop, the magnetic field strength rises — an indication that the magnetic field is fluctuating.

What's more, Voyager's instruments are still showing no change in the direction of the magnetic field, an indication that it's still inside the solar system.

Image: NASA.


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Corpore Metal

I remember when I was kid at the launch of the Voyagers (1977) and thinking how enormously long it would take for them to get to Saturn, and later, for one of them to get to Uranus and Neptune (1989). And those dates seemed so very far away.

Now time passes so quickly, my metabolism must have really slowed down past 35. Sigh.