Nation & World News

Has Voyager 1 Left The Solar System?

By Geoff Brumfiel on August 19th, 2013

The Voyager 1 spacecraft launched in 1977 on a mission to Jupiter and Saturn. It kept on going. Today it’s billions of miles from Earth, and scientists have been predicting it will soon leave the solar system.

NPR has been on Voyager watch since at least 2003, when longtime science correspondent Richard Harris provided this warning of Voyager’s impending departure.

But now Marc Swisdak, a physicist at the University of Maryland, says the spacecraft may have already left. “Late July 2012 is when we think it [left],” he says.

How did we miss that? As it turns out, it wasn’t entirely our fault. Researchers thought the solar system was surrounded by a clearly marked magnetic field bubble.

“There’s one at the Earth, there’s one at Jupiter, Saturn — many planets have them. And so just by analogy we were expecting there to be something like that for the solar system,” Swisdak says.

Scientists were waiting for Voyager to cross over the magnetic edge of our solar system and into the magnetic field of interstellar space. But in a paper in the September issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters, Swisdak and his colleagues say the magnetic fields may blend together. And so in July 2012, when Voyager crossed from the solar system into deep space, “Voyager just kept cruising along,” Swisdak says. All scientists saw was a change in the field’s direction.

But not everyone thinks Voyager has left. Ed Stone is NASA’s chief scientist for Voyager. He thinks there is a magnetic edge to the solar system, and until Voyager sees a change in the magnetic field, it hasn’t left the solar system. He’s hoping that change will come in the next few years.

“I think that there is a very good chance before we run out of electrical power that we will be demonstrably in interstellar space,” he says.

Until Voyager’s power goes out or the magnetic field flips, the scientific debate will continue. So will Voyager’s journey, Swisdak says: “Basically it’s just happily heading out toward … pretty much nowhere.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

A customer walks in the Record Collector store in Sheffield, England, Friday. Hundreds of independent record stores are putting on special promotions for Saturday's Record Store Day.

It’s Record Store Day – Here Are Pictures To Prove It

From new releases to vintage finds, people have been posting photos of their favorite albums and record stores Saturday.


Furious 7 has hit the $1 billion worldwide box-office mark, two days faster any other film. Earlier this month, stars Sung Kang, left, and Ludacris attend the film's Los Angeles premiere.

‘Furious 7′ Races To New Record, Quickly Hitting $1 Billion Mark

Universal says the movie is the studio’s first to cross the billion-dollar mark during its first run in theaters, putting it above films such as Jurassic Park and Despicable Me.


A shape that could be an airplane is seen in a 3D sonar image (lower portion) of the USS Independence released by NOAA, which located the shipwreck in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A team located the carrier during a maritime archaeological survey.

WWII Aircraft Carrier Is Found ‘Amazingly Intact’ On Ocean Floor Near San Francisco

It fought in World War II and was used in two atomic bomb tests. Now, 64 years after it was scuttled, the USS Independence has been located by an undersea survey team led by NOAA and the U.S. Navy.


Antitrust Inquiry Reportedly Looks At How Big Theater Chains Snare Movies

News of a federal inquiry comes as arguments over preferential treatment and exclusivity have been heating up in recent years.


Police made one of several arrests at this house in Narre Warren, a suburb of Melbourne, Saturday. Police raided houses in the city's outer eastern suburbs and made several arrests over an alleged attack planned for ANZAC Day.

Australia Says It Broke Up ISIS-Inspired Plot To Attack WWI Event

In a series of early-morning raids, Australian counterterrorism police arrested five men in the Melbourne area Saturday, over their possible involvement in a plot to attack a memorial ceremony.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Underwriting Payments