Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Voyager Continues to Explore

I love following space probes.

News release: 2011-372                             
Dec. 5, 2011

NASA's Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space. Data obtained from Voyager over the last year reveal this new region to be a kind of cosmic purgatory. In it, the wind of charged particles streaming out from our sun has calmed, our solar system's magnetic field is piled up, and higher-energy particles from inside our solar system appear to be leaking out into interstellar space.

"Voyager tells us now that we're in a stagnation region in the outermost
layer of the bubble around our solar system," said Ed Stone, Voyager
scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "Voyager
showing that what is outside is pushing back. We shouldn't have long to
to find out what the space between stars is really like."

Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers)
the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space. In the latest data, the
direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, indicating Voyager
still within the heliosphere, the bubble of charged particles the sun
around itself. The data do not reveal exactly when Voyager 1 will make
past the edge of the solar atmosphere into interstellar space, but
it will be in a few months to a few years.

The latest findings, described today at the American Geophysical Union's
fall meeting in San Francisco, come from Voyager's Low Energy Charged
Particle instrument, Cosmic Ray Subsystem and Magnetometer.

Scientists previously reported the outward speed of the solar wind had
diminished to zero in April 2010, marking the start of the new region.
Mission managers rolled the spacecraft several times this spring and
to help scientists discern whether the solar wind was blowing strongly
another direction. It was not. Voyager 1 is plying the celestial seas in
region similar to Earth's doldrums, where there is very little wind.

During this past year, Voyager's magnetometer also detected a doubling
the intensity of the magnetic field in the stagnation region. Like cars
piling up at a clogged freeway off-ramp, the increased intensity of the
magnetic field shows that inward pressure from interstellar space is
compacting it.

Voyager has been measuring energetic particles that originate from
and outside our solar system. Until mid-2010, the intensity of particles
originating from inside our solar system had been holding steady. But
the past year, the intensity of these energetic particles has been
declining, as though they are leaking out into interstellar space. The
particles are now half as abundant as they were during the previous five

At the same time, Voyager has detected a 100-fold increase in the
of high-energy electrons from elsewhere in the galaxy diffusing into our
solar system from outside, which is another indication of the

"We've been using the flow of energetic charged particles at Voyager 1 as
kind of wind sock to estimate the solar wind velocity," said Rob Decker,
Voyager Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument co-investigator at the
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. "We've
that the wind speeds are low in this region and gust erratically. For
first time, the wind even blows back at us. We are evidently traveling
completely new territory. Scientists had suggested previously
that there
might be a stagnation layer, but we weren't sure it existed until now."

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 are in good health. Voyager 2 is 9
miles (15 billion kilometers) away from the sun.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of
California Institute of Technology. The Voyager missions are a part of
NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics
of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information
the Voyager spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/voyager .

For more information about NASA media events at the American Geophysical
Union meeting, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/agu .

Jia-Rui C. Cook/Alan Buis 818-354-0850/818-653-8339
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Steve Cole 202-358-0918
NASA Headquarters, Washington Dec. 5, 2011

- end -

Tags: news, science, space exploration

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