Voyager 1 Enters Magnetic Highway, AKA the Last Step to Interstellar Space
December 5, 2012 7:46 AM
NASA scientists say Voyager 1 could enter interstellar space anywhere from months to a couple of years from now
NASA's Voyager 1 is traveling through the last leg of its journey before
entering interstellar space
Voyager 1, which was launched into space in 1977 to eventually explore interstellar space and become the most distant human-made object, has reached a region that NASA scientists are calling a magnetic highway. This highway consists of charged particles where the sun's magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines.
This area is still considered part of our heliosphere, which is a bubble of charged particles around the sun, because the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed. The direction of these lines will change when Voyager 1 enters interstellar space, and scientists believe the magnetic highway is the last stretch before finally making it to interstellar space.
"Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager."
NASA scientists say Voyager 1 could enter interstellar space anywhere from months to a couple of years from now.
In July of this year, Voyager 1 received another clue that it was nearing interstellar space. In studying the bubble of charged particles, it
fastest rate of change
in two of three signs of changes expected to occur at this particular area. The three signs of changes are the rate in which levels of high-energy cosmic ray particles increase, the rate in which lower-energy particles decrease, and the direction of the magnetic field.
On July 28, levels of high-energy cosmic ray particles originating from outside our solar system increased by 5 percent. In the last half of that same day, lower-energy particles originating from inside our solar system decreased by half. Three days later, all levels returned to normal. This was the fastest rate of change observed so far.
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