NASA confirms Voyager 1 is in Interstellar Space
Poor guy never even got to see Empire Strikes Back, but was lucky to miss all things Kardashian.
After 36 years and 11.7 billion miles, NASA announced that Voyager 1 is officially the first man made object to venture into inter-stellar space.
NASA knew a while back that Voyager was close to breaking through the heliopause (the outer border), but they were unsure until a random sunburst from March 2012 finally caught up to the probe a year later and triggered Voyager’s sensors. It took a few months, but scientists finally determined that the high amount of plasma around the probe proved it was outside of the sun’s magnetic barrier and into interstellar space. For those of you sending cards and flowers, the breakthrough anniversary was officially August 25, 2012.
Launched the same year as Star Wars (1977), NASA’s Voyager_Program sent two probes on a 4 year trek to photograph and explore the other planets and deep space. Voyager 2 was actually launched first to take advantage of a rare alignment of the planets and ride a long path past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 launched 17 days later, but took a different route that skipped the outer planets, but allowed it to explore Saturn’s moon, Titan – the largest moon in our solar system that also has a potentially human-friendly atmosphere. One of the coolest aspects of the Voyagers is that if they ever run into any intelligent life, a golden record on board sends greetings in every language (human and some animals) on the planet.
One cool story: back in 1990, when Voyager 1 passed all the planetary orbits, Carl Sagan asked NASA to flip the probe’s camera around to snap the farthest picture of Earth ever taken. NASA was worried the old machine shouldn’t be tinkered with, but they eventually acquiesced and the result is the eye-opening/mind-bending Pale Blue Dot photograph.
Now 32 years after passing Saturn, the nuclear-powered probe is still speeding along at 38,000 mph and sending info back to Earth though a 22 watt transmitter (about the same as your fridge’s light bulb). Messages take over 17 hours to reach us, but NASA expects those to stop in the next decade or so. After that, our lonely Voyager 1 is on it’s own for quite some time – next stop is our nearest neighbor, AC+793888, a dwarf star in the Camelopardalis constellation 48,000 years away.
Enjoy the journey, Voyager 1. Bring me back a t-shirt.
Read: In a Breathtaking First, NASA Craft Exits the Solar System – NYTimes.com.
Watch: Pale Blue Dot (Video) | The Ryno’s Horn.
***this post was originally entitled “NASA confirms Voyager 1 left the Solar System”, but as Slate explains comets farther than Voyager 1 still gravitate around our sun, therefore they’re still in the “system”. Basically, this mean even though it’s outside the house, Voyager 1 is still in the Sun’s big yard – but officially in the space between stars.