Published: Sat, December 15, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft is now flying through the stars

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft is now flying through the stars

Stone said: "Well this just contributes to the number of discoveries that Voyager is making and this is one we hoped that we would be able to do and fortunately both Voyagers were working when they reached interstellar space and that was quite an achievement".

This makes it the second spacecraft to travel into deep space after Voyager 1 waved goodbye to our star system in 2012.

Though it launched a couple weeks before its twin Voyager 1, its trajectory took it on a longer route through the solar system.

Mission scientists determined that the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere - known as the heliopause, on November 5.

"Our long-standing relationship with NASA stretches back more than 50 years, creating breakthrough solutions from science, and fuelled by our shared ambition to push the boundaries of exploration to benefit life back on Earth". In about 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will be within 4.3 light-years (25 trillion miles) of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Find out more in the video above. There are large icy objects out here, collectively known as the Oort Cloud, that are still under the gravitational influence of the sun. "Now we're studying the very local interstellar medium".

Together, the two Voyagers provide a detailed glimpse of how our heliosphere interacts with the constant interstellar wind flowing from beyond. For starters, it makes sense to say that the Solar System extends to the edge of the influence of the Sun. Although NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft launched before the Voyagers paved the way on similar journeys beyond the Asteroid Belt to the outer solar system, eventually leading into interstellar space, they are no longer communicating with Earth.

Both Voyager crafts, then, aren't expected to leave the solar system anytime soon. This instrument stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, but it's still operating on Voyager 2. "Now we're looking forward to what we'll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause". It was this instrument that observed a "steep decline" in solar wind particle speeds on November 5, this being "the most compelling evidence" of entering interstellar space, according to NASA. Originally some scientists speculated our star's winds would peter out in the vicinity of Mars, but the Voyager spacecraft have gradually pushed this boundary far beyond.

Another clue came from the instruments on Voyager 2 that measure hits from energetic cosmic rays. Voyager 2 is now operating in temperatures of just about 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees Celsius), and for each year that passes the spacecraft can produce 4 watts less of energy.

"The outer edge of the Oort Cloud is approximately where that is", says Redfield, who has used the Hubble Space Telescope to study the Voyagers' paths in detail for the next hundred thousand years, and more crudely for the next several million.

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