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article imageNASA's Voyager 1 set to leave solar system, 11 billion miles away

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jun 17, 2012 in Science
NASA's Voyager 1 has reached the edge of our solar system and its is flying out into interstellar space. The craft built by NASA and launched in 1977, traveling at 17 km/second is now 17,970,000,000km or 11,100,000,000 miles away from the Earth.
Reuters reports that with Voyager 1 space probe at the edge of the solar system, it has successfully extended its record as the most distant man-made object in space. The Atlantic reports that the spacecraft's cameras were turned off in 1990 after it took pictures that some described as a "Family Portrait" consisting of planets as they appear from Voyager 1's perspective looking back over the solar system as it traveled beyond.
According to Reuters, signals from the space probe received last week indicate that the craft is at the edge of the heliosphere, poised to leave the solar system and voyage into interstellar space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California, reports that the spacecraft is still sending back data to the Earth. According to The Atlantic, the signals reach us 16 hours, 38 minutes after they leave the craft. The data is recently showing a sharp increase in charged particles originating from beyond the solar system. The Atlantic reports the increasing levels of charged particles imply that it has reached the edge of the heliosheath, described as a bubble around the solar system that protects us from cosmic winds.
To envision the Sun s presence in the Milky Way galaxy  think of a ship plowing through the ocean  b...
To envision the Sun's presence in the Milky Way galaxy, think of a ship plowing through the ocean, being tossed by currents. As the ship sails ahead, a bow shock spreads around the vessel. The area under the Sun's influence, stretching well beyond the planets and forming what's called the heliosphere, is like a ship. The outer edges of the heliosphere are gently buffeted by interstellar wind, the gas and dust between the stars. As the Sun orbits the center of the Milky Way galaxy, the helios
Reuters reports that charged particles hitting Voyager 1 come from stars that have exploded in our galaxy. The Atlantic reports the increased count of energetic particles consist of less energetic cosmic particles which enter the heliosphere in only very small quantities.
According to Voyager scientist Ed Stone, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, "From January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25 percent in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering. More recently, we have seen very rapid escalation in that part of the energy spectrum. Beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month."
The Atlantic reports that the count suddenly increased10 percent. According to Stone, this is "the fastest increase we've seen." Stone says that when Voyager 1 finally leaves the heliosphere and enters interstellar space "where all the particles are," the increasing charged particle count will flatten out. According to Stone, the fact that the count is rising indicates Voyager 1 is still in the process of leaving the heliosphere. Stone said: "But we don't know. I mean this is the first time any spacecraft has been there... Since nothing's ever been there before, we don't know what it will look like, which makes it a little hard to recognize 'it' at all. That's the exciting thing."
Voyager spacecraft
Voyager spacecraft
He said further: "The boundary will not be an instantaneous thing. [Voyager] won't suddenly be outside."
According to Reuters, a NASA statement said: "Voyager scientists looking at this rapid rise draw closer to an inevitable but historic conclusion - that humanity's first emissary to interstellar space is on the edge of our solar system."
Daily Mail reports that Voyager 1 entered the heliosheath sometime in 2004.
According to Voyager scientist Edward Stone: "This is the first time any spacecraft has been there. We're looking at our data every day - we listen to these spacecraft every day, for a few hours every day, to keep track of what's going on... It's very exciting from a scientific point of view, when you're seeing something that nobody's seen before. It will be hard to define when Voyager has left. It will not be a clean break - the molecules will thin out less, and there will be no wall or set boundary. What will the Voyager find out there? Probably close to an absolute vacuum, save for a few long-range comets which still orbit the Sun."
The Great Red Spot as seen from Voyager 1 This dramatic view of Jupiter s Great Red Spot and its sur...
The Great Red Spot as seen from Voyager 1 This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on February 25, 1979, when the spacecraft was 5.7 million miles (9.2 million kilometers) from Jupiter. Cloud details as small as 100 miles (160 kilometers) across can be seen here. The colorful, wavy cloud pattern to the left of the Red Spot is a region of extraordinarily complex and variable wave motion. To give a sense of Jupiter's scale, the white oval storm
Daily Mail reports scientists are looking out for other signs that Voyager 1 has finally crossed the boundary. One sign the Voyager 1 instruments are looking for are a change in the magnetic field direction and the type of wind. Los Angeles Times report another instrument measures the flux of energetic particles generated inside the heliosphere. That flux has been decreasing recently and researchers expect the flux to drop rapidly when the craft leaves the heliosphere.
Daily Mail reports, however, that there is no sharply defined boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space out there. Stone said: "The laws of physics say that someday Voyager will become the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, but we still do not know exactly when that someday will be. The latest data indicate that we are clearly in a new region where things are changing more quickly. It is very exciting. We are approaching the solar system's frontier."
Reuters reports that Voyager 1 and its sister spacecraft Voyager 2, were launched in 1977. Voyager 1 is now 18 billion kilometers from the Sun, while Voyager 2 is about 15 billion kilometers from the Sun.
The sisters probes have literally toured the giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and about 48 of their moons.
The crafts carry a greeting for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form that my intercept them, including a phonograph record and 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with sounds and images of the Earth. The choice of sounds and images was made by a group chaired by the famous scientist Carl Sagan, Reuters reports.
Reuters also notes that the plutonium power sources on the Voyager probes are designed to last until 2025. When they die, the probes will keep traveling in space but they will stop transmitting data back to Earth.
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