Voyager spacecraft just about on the edge of the Solar System / Voyager 1 y 2 están explorando los límites exteriores del sistema solar

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Remember the Voyager spacecraft? Not many are aware that both of them are still functioning, and are continuing to send back useful data. They're now right on the edge of the Solar System, in this area:

Each spacecraft has now crossed the edge of the solar system, known as termination shock, where the outbound solar wind collides with inbound energetic particles from interstellar space. The termination shock surrounds the solar system and encloses a bubble called the heliosphere.

"The solar wind is blowing outward trying to inflate this bubble, and the pressure from interstellar wind is coming in," said Edward Stone, physicist and Voyager project scientist at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif. He and other researchers published a series of studies in the journal Nature this week that detail the Voyager findings.

It's basically a big bubble made of solar wind that goes out in all directions from the Sun; it trails out behind quite a ways as well and is flattened near the front. Luckily there's an image that explains it much better than I could:

Image:Voyager 1 entering heliosheath region.jpg

This means that they're just about into interstellar space:

"Somehow the solar wind knows the shock is coming before it gets there, and theory says that shouldn't be," Richardson noted, adding that the solar wind speed drops from its supersonic speed of about 248 miles per second (400 km/s) to 186 miles per second (300 km/s) even before hitting the edge of the solar system. That speed falls more noticeably to about 93 miles per second (150 km/s) after the termination shock.

Even as researchers continue parsing the Voyager findings, both spacecraft plow onward toward deep space — and beyond all expectations of their original mission. "My guess is five to seven years to reach interstellar space," Stone said. "There's a very good chance that Voyager I will send the first data back from there.

At the bottom of the article at there are already 96 comments. The Voyager craft are two of the most successful projects we've ever launched. Since they're not really going anywhere in particular after reaching interstellar space:

Voyager 1 is not heading towards any particular star, but in about 40,000 years it will be within 1.6 light years of the star AC+79 3888 in the Ophiuchus constellation.

I wonder if one day in the far future we'll send out a craft to pick them up and bring them back. That would be phenomenal.


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