World Voyager 2 probe which launched 42 years ago reaches interstellar space

The Voyager 2 probe was launched on August 20, 1977, by NASA from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan IIIE/Centaur launch vehicle. A period of low solar activity should have pulled the heliopause back a bit during Voyager 2's crossing past year. The boundary of the solar system - the place where the solar wind ends and interstellar space begins - is called the heliopause. The findings were published Monday in a series of five papers in Nature Astronomy.

The so-called heliopause is the relatively thin contact boundary where solar wind of charged particles and interstellar wind collide. Luckily, Voyager 2's instruments are in somewhat better shape than Voyager 1's, so scientists were able to observe the transition from the heliosphere, which is dominated by the sun, to the interstellar medium (ISM). The regions adjacent to the heliopause are emphasised for clarity.

"The Voyager probes are showing us how our Sun interacts with the stuff that fills most of the space between stars in the Milky Way galaxy", said Ed Stone, project scientist for Voyager and a professor of physics at California Institute of Technology (via NASA). They are established through NASA's Deep Space Network.

The sun constantly gushes out a flow of charged particles, known as plasma, known as solar wind.

It has been a year since Voyager 2 left the heliosphere - the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by our Sun. The plasma inside the heliosphere is hot and sparse, while the plasma in interstellar space is colder and denser. One of Voyager's particle instruments showed that a trickle of particles from inside the heliosphere is slipping through the boundary and into interstellar space. The magnetic field outside the heliosphere looks similar to what it saw before.

"It implies that the heliosphere is symmetric, at least at the two points where the Voyager spacecraft crossed", said Bill Kurth, University of Iowa research scientist and a co-author on the study. Twin brother Voyager 1 preceded him in 2012. "It's just astonishing how fluids, including plasmas, form boundaries".

The interaction between the sun and interstellar space is also intriguing to the scientists.

The heliosphere is a bubble-like region of space which surrounds and is created by the Sun. This knowledge could be applied to all the stars astronomers study, because they believe other stars likely possess the same features.

When Voyager 2 crossed the boundary, it observed simultaneous increase in the intensity of cosmic rays, particles moving thought the space at almost the speed of light. And they provide two data points based on where they crossed into interstellar space. The astronomer believes that the probes give important clues about the details and structure of the heliosphere.


Voyager 2 found that the temperature of the plasma in the surrounding interstellar medium is lower than that in the heliosphere.

Both Voyager probes were only built to last 12 years. Voyager 2, on the other hand, is located closer to the flank, and this region appears to be more porous than the region where Voyager 1 is located.

The two probes will eventually cease to communicate over the next decade.

Over time, power system efficiency has decreased, and the generators produce 40% less than they did at the time of launch.

The thrusters on both spacecraft are also degrading. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth. Engineers did the same thing with thrusters on Voyager 1 in 2017. It's also using more power, so engineers turned off a heater for the Cosmic Ray Subsystem. Voyager 2 is the second spacecraft in history to cross that border, 18 billion kilometers away from us, and dive into the the interstellar space.

Voyager 2, with all of its functionality still intact has been more successful in this regard and has rewarded researchers with a slew of much anticipated information.

The data gathered by the probes has helped inform NASA's Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, scheduled to launch in 2024.

"Both Voyager probes are exploring regions never before visited, so every day is a day of discovery", Stone said.

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