The historic NASA spacecraft is expected to exit our solar system as early as next year, according to a study.
Voyager 1 is now 11 billion miles from Earth, and it has encountered an unexpected “transition zone” at the edge of the system. Readings from this zone, combined with other readings from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, indicate that Voyager may be about to cross into the space between the stars.
“Perhaps by the end of 2012, we will be out in the galaxy,” said the study’s lead author, Stamatios Krimigis, of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, in an article on Space.com.
No man-made object has ever traveled this far.
In this area, solar wind — the charged particles coming from the sun — is basically zero. Voyager 1 measured the solar wind at rates as high as 130,000 mph in 2007, but it has since dropped. The solar wind is being blown sideways by a powerful interstellar wind, according to researchers. This “transition zone” is a new concept. Space.com reports that scientists had predicted a sharp, sudden boundary between our solar system and interstellar space.
“It’s at variance with all the theoretical models that anybody has come up with so far,” Krimigis said. “Nobody predicted that we would go through this region of zero velocity, where essentially the solar wind would be sort of sloshing around and not doing anything.”
Voyager and its sister craft, Voyager 2 (9 billion miles from earth) have been revolutionizing our knowledge of space since their launch. They sent back pictures and readings from Jupiter, Saturn, their moons, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond.
When their primary mission was over, the spacecraft kept going, and they kept sending back data.