March 20, 2013
Voyager 1 Allegedly Enters New Region Of Space
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
NASA´s Voyager 1 spacecraft may have allegedly left the confines of our solar System after 35 years and more than 11 billion miles of traveling through space.
Scientists writing in the Geophysical Research Letters claim that they measured drastic changes in radiation levels on August 25, 2012 while the spacecraft was sitting over 11 billion miles away from the Sun. The anomalous cosmic rays (those trapped in the outer heliosphere) hitting the veteran spacecraft at this point dropped to less than one percent of previous amounts.
“Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the (galactic) cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere,” said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces.
The researchers wrote in the journal that it appears as though Voyager 1 has exited the main solar modulation region, revealing hydrogen and helium spectra characteristics of those expected in the local interstellar medium.
Webber did point out that scientists are continuing to debate whether the NASA spacecraft has reached interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the Solar System.
“It´s outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that,” Webber said in a statement. “We´re in a new region. And everything we´re measuring is different and exciting.”
After news broke out about the study, NASA issued a statement challenging the findings, saying its team of scientists believes Voyager 1 is still in our solar system.
"The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA's Voyager 1 has left the solar system," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space."
The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched along with its twin spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1977 on a mission to study our Solar System. Voyager 1 is the most distant man-made object from Earth, and is so far out that its signal takes about 17 hours to travel to Earth. Voyager 2 is the longest continuously operated spacecraft, and is currently at 9 billion miles away from the Sun.
In December, NASA said at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco that Voyager 1 reached a new region of space known as the magnetic highway for charged particles. In this region, the sun´s magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines. This highway allows lower-energy charged particles from inside our heliosphere to move out, and allows higher-energy particles from outside to come in.
“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun´s environment, we now can taste what it´s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” Edward Stone said back in December. “We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it´s likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn´t what we expected, but we´ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.”
Stone reminded everyone today with his statement that NASA still believes Voyager 1 is sitting in this magnetic highway.
"A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed," he said in the statement today.