Voyager 2 breaks through to interstellar space

Voyager 2 breaks through to interstellar space”

NASA has made history once again, as Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space - only the second man-made object ever to do so.

The most compelling evidence of the probe's passage across the heliopause - that is, the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space - came in the form of data from its Plasma Science Experiment, or PLS, an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980.

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

While both Voyagers have now departed the sun's heliosphere, they are still inside the solar system as it's currently defined.

When it comes to prodding the very boundaries of the Solar System we all reside in, astronomers have had a notoriously tricky time of figuring out where those edges truly lie.

It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and up to 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

Voyager 2 launched 16 days before Voyager 1 on August 20, 1977.

The probe, launched in 1977 to study the planets farthest from Earth, crossed the outermost edge of what's called the heliosphere - a protective bubble created by our sun - on November 5.

Sadly, the Voyager spacecraft won't be sending back any images from interstellar space, not that there would be much to see if they did.

Three other instruments measured corresponding changes in cosmic rays, low-energy particles and magnetic field strength.

Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters the new phase of its journey, but information - moving at the speed of light - takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. Non-essential instruments and systems such as the cameras aboard the twin spacecraft have been turned off to preserve power.

Trades between power and thermal will continue to keep it operating as long as possible. "If we get out to 2027, that will be a 50-year mission".

Both probes still carry Golden Records containing pictures, messages and sounds from Earth because the spacecraft could outlast human civilization by billions of years. During the 1970s and 1980s, Voyager 2 took on a "Grand Tour" with close flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager 1 took a different course that featured a close-up of the Saturnian moon Titan.

"Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we're seeing is new", MIT's John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument, said in a news release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Now we're looking forward to what we'll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause".

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