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Has Voyager left the solar system ?


Posted on Thursday, 21 March, 2013 | Comment icon 39 comments | News tip by: keithisco


Image credit: NASA

 
The debate is on over whether or not the Voyager spacecraft has finally entered interstellar space.

Voyager-1 was launched back in 1977, embarking on a pioneering mission to explore the outer planets for the first time. It didn't stop there however, the spacecraft has been traveling now for more than 35 years and is located a staggering 18 billion kilometers away, the equivalent of 123 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Many scientists believe that Voyager has now left the solar system entirely, yet there is still much debate on the topic of exactly where our solar system ends and interstellar space begins.

Back in August a large increase in cosmic rays coupled with a drop in the intensity of energetic particles coming from the Sun signaled Voyager's potential exit from the heliosphere region at the very edge of the solar system. "Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere," said Prof Bill Webber. Some of the scientists at NASA however aren't convinced that this is definitive evidence that the probe has entered interstellar space.

Once it does leave the solar system the spacecraft will have a long, cold journey ahead of it. On it's current course and speed Voyager-1 will take somewhere in the region of 40,000 years to travel anywhere close to the next nearest star.

"The possibility that the Voyager-1 spacecraft may have left the Solar System is being hotly debated."

  View: Full article |  Source: BBC News

  Discuss: View comments (39)

   


 
Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #30 Posted by Taun on 25 March, 2013, 13:41
While I completely agree with you on this... right now aren't ALL of our definitions on this a bit arbitrary?... Perhaps the last gift Voyager can give us is forcing the scientists to finally pin down exactly where the solar system ends - and what defines the limits.... Perhaps we could call it the "Voyager Line"...
Comment icon #31 Posted by Frank Merton on 25 March, 2013, 13:59
I'm not sure what it is but it seems he finds something to nitpick with everything I post. If he thinks about it awhile maybe he will realize it isn't all that arbitrary -- that once you've gotten about halfway from Sol to whatever is in that general direction, you will be out of the solar system.
Comment icon #32 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 March, 2013, 14:48
The heliopause isn't an arbitrary definition of the edge of the solar system, it is measurable. It is the point at which particles from the interstellar wind are greater in number than the particles from the solar wind. The argument between scientists is over whether this is what Voyager has in fact measured. The problem with this definition is that it fails to take into account that there are believed to be objects orbiting the sun at considerably greater distance than the heliopause. Comets travel much further than this and the Oort cloud, whilst orbiting the sun, would be regarded out... [More]
Comment icon #33 Posted by Frank Merton on 25 March, 2013, 14:50
Stars are distributed somewhat randomly, so as you get further out the chances of some star being closer to Sol increase even if it is not directly in your path.
Comment icon #34 Posted by danielost on 25 March, 2013, 15:04
Looks like we are going to just draw a line in space and call it the edge of the solar system. Kind of like we do with borders on earth. Which is why so many riversd are part of said border. Gives us something to see.
Comment icon #35 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 March, 2013, 15:59
Yes and no. What Voyager is looking for is the start of interstellar space. It is a measurable thing. We could take the same instruments and find the heliopause around other stars, so it is a reproducible measurable definition of the edge of the solar system based on sound scientific principles. It is the sort of definition scientists like. As I said though, this is not the only definition of the edge of the solar system as there are objects measuring the sun at a greater distance. A good, common-sense definition of the edge of the solar system would, therefore, be the greatest distance from... [More]
Comment icon #36 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 March, 2013, 16:43
Just after I made my last post I came across this article on the Discovery site which says a lot of what I was trying to say (only a lot more eloquently):[hr] The last paragraph is especially relevant:
Comment icon #37 Posted by danielost on 25 March, 2013, 17:43
Looks like we have to take it on one at a time, allowing room in our diion to change when needed. Becausde using your defintion the centary system would be about 1/2 a ight across.
Comment icon #38 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 25 March, 2013, 18:12
No, the opposite is true. We need a definition which is standard and which can be applied equally to all systems. Both mine, and Frank's definition pass that rule. I assume you mean Alpha Centauri system. If you are talking about my definition (as opposed to Frank's) then the figure would be about 0.4 light years across, since Alpha Centauri C (Proxima Centauri) orbits at a distance of 0.2 ly from the system barycentre. Why is this a problem? What is wrong with that figure? Bear in mind that I specifically pointed out that my definition would give a known limit to the edge of a sol... [More]


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