NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space

NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space

For the second time in human history, an object made on Earth by humans has successfully left the Solar System and officially reached the space between stars-interstellar space!

The milestone came more than 41 years after Voyager 2's launch in 1977 on what was then a grand interplanetary mission, and is now a grand interstellar mission. Its recent readings show a steep decline in solar wind particles indicating it is now in interstellar space. It takes almost 17 hours for a radio signal, traveling at the speed of light from Earth, to reach Voyager 2 - as a comparison, it takes a little more than eight minutes for light to travel from the sun to Earth.

Voyager 2 last month exited "this bubble that the sun creates around itself", Nasa mission scientist Ed Stone said.

Voyager 2 carries an instrument called the Plasma Science Experiment (PLS) that detects the properties of solar wind.

Voyager 2 has not made it out of our solar system, rather it has left the heliosphere according to data from the probe. While the heliosphere does encompass the sun and all of the planets in our solar system, there are still comets and other objects outside of the heliosphere that remain a part of our solar system. The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU.

Together, Voyagers 1 and 2 will provide astronomers on Earth with clues about what lies beyond the heliosphere and what the area outside of the sun's influence might be like. The space probe, originally launched in 1977, has traveled well beyond its original destinations. Voyager 2 flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before it, too, left the realm of the major planets.

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At its current velocity, it will take Voyager 2 another 300 years or so to reach the inner boundary of the Oort cloud and possibly 30,000 years to move beyond it. "This is what we've all been waiting for".

The Voyager probes are the only spacecraft capable of taking "in-situ" measurements of this enigmatic region, measurements that are going to be used to complement observations by other missions located a little closer to home. It is a fascinating realisation that while the two probes are over four decades away in number of years they are still just hours away from Earth for radio communication.

The Voyager missions have been an astonishing success for NASA.

"To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the sun's influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory", Ms Fox said.

Each probe contains a golden record embedded with snapshots of Earth's sounds, images and messages in the hope that another civilization may someday chance upon it and learn about human civilization.

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