NASA this week said its remarkable 34-year old Voyager 1 spacecraft may be getting close to breaking out of our solar system and into interstellar space.
The reason NASA says the spacecraft maybe getting close to that historic break through is that the ship has "encountered a region in space where the intensity of charged particles from beyond our solar system has markedly increased."
NASA said from January 2009 to January 2012, there had been a gradual increase of about 25% in the amount of galactic cosmic rays Voyager was encountering but beginning on May 7, the cosmic ray hits have increased five percent in a week and nine percent in a month, NASA said.
"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," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology said in a a statement. "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."
From NASA: "This marked increase is one of a triad of data sets which need to make significant swings of the needle to indicate a new era in space exploration. The second important measure from the spacecraft's two telescopes is the intensity of energetic particles generated inside the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself. While there has been a slow decline in the measurements of these energetic particles, they have not dropped off precipitously, which could be expected when Voyager breaks through the solar boundary. The final data set that Voyager scientists believe will reveal a major change is the measurement in the direction of the magnetic field lines surrounding the spacecraft. While Voyager is still within the heliosphere, these field lines run east-west. When it passes into interstellar space, the team expects Voyager will find that the magnetic field lines orient in a more north-south direction. Such analysis will take weeks, and the Voyager team is currently crunching the numbers of its latest data set."
The data too is on an amazing trip. It takes 16-hour and 38 minutes for it to traverse the 11.1-billion-miles (17.8-billion-kilometers) between Voyager 1 to antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth.
Last June, NASA said that the boundary between interstellar space and the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself is likely between 10 and 14 billion miles (16 to 23 billion kilometers) from the sun, with a best estimate of approximately 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers). Since Voyager 1 is has crossed that threshold it could cross into interstellar space at any time.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health, NASA says. Voyager 2 is more than 9.1 billion miles (14.7 billion kilometers) away from the sun.
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