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article imageVoyager spacecraft detect missing sign of newborn stars

By Albert Baer     Dec 5, 2011 in Science
Data from NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft confirm radiation from newborn stars, decades after the spacecraft were launched on a mission to study the solar system.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were sent on a mission to study the outer planets of the solar system. After passing by the gas giants gliding far from the Sun, the twin spacecraft continued on their voyage into space, are now finally reaching the edge of the solar system and on the verge of entering interstellar space. The two spacecraft, along with the twin Pioneer probes, are the most distant man-made objects in space, at over 11 billion miles from the Sun. At this distance, light takes over 33 hours to make a round-trip from the Earth to the probes.
Reviewing data obtained from the spacecraft between 1993 and 2003, astronomers have detected a long missing sign of the formation of stars in the Milky Way -- a frequency of ultraviolet light called Lyman-alpha. This frequency corresponds to the energy emitted from hydrogen dropping down from an excited state, and is associated with the light of newborn stars. Lyman-alpha light is observed in star-forming regions seen in distant galaxies, but has gone undetected in our own Milky Way. Interference from our own Sun blocks our observation of Lyman-alpha light from our our vantage point in the solar system. Light traveling to us from distant galaxies has been red-shifted, however, making it able to avoid solar interference.
After reviewing signals obtained from the Voyager spacecraft as they traveled into the outer parts of the solar system and escaped the influence of the Sun, astronomers have finally found evidence of the Milky Way's own Lyman-alpha emissions. As reported by Nature, co-author of the review Bill Sandel says, "This is the first time that it's been detected. So now it's possible to compare the expectations of models with a real result, taken from a region where the environment is well enough known to say with confidence whether the star-formation model is working or not."
Voyager mission controllers are simply celebrating that the spacecraft are still providing new science data almost 35 years after their launch into space.
The study is available in Science.
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