After 42 years in space, Voyager 2 breaks through the heliosphere

A historic NASA probe sends back a treasure-trove of information from billions of miles away.

After 42 years in space, Voyager 2 breaks through the heliosphere
  • NASA's Voyager 2 probe sends back invaluable information about interstellar space.
  • The probe was launched in 1977.
  • 5 new studies detail the data gathered by its instruments.


Over 40 years after its launch, NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft sent back invaluable information from interstellar space. It is only the second spacecraft in history to go beyond the heliosphere – a bubble created by winds streaming from our sun that protects us from interstellar radiation.

New studies released by researchers confirm that the Voyager 2 is now traveling through the so-called interstellar medium (ISM) – an area between stars. Despite this happening about 11 billion miles away from Earth, scientists have been able to determine the craft crossing into ISM from the change in the density of plasma, a gas composed of charged particles. Data reported by a plasma wave instrument aboard the Voyager showed a transition from hot, low-density plasma of the solar wind to colder, high-density plasma associated with interstellar space. This was also observed aboard Voyager 1, the first human-made spacecraft to cross over into the ISM in 2012.

Caltech physics professor Ed Stone, a project scientist for Voyager, highlighted the significance of what the probes uncovered:

"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 Stone in a press release. "Without this new data from Voyager 2, we wouldn't know if what we were seeing with Voyager 1 was characteristic of the entire heliosphere or specific just to the location and time when it crossed."

NASA’s Voyager 2 Enters Interstellar Space

The five new studies that were published each provide details of the findings from one of Voyager 2's operating science instruments. These include a magnetic field sensor, two instruments that detect energetic particles and another two instruments that study plasma.

Among the noteworthy conclusions from the instruments is that some particles from the heliosphere are going through the somewhat porous boundary into interstellar space. Another finding shows that the magnetic field in the area just outside the heliopause parallels the magnetic field inside it.

The two probes were launched in 1977, flying by Jupiter and Saturn, where they diverged. Voyager 2 ended up changing its path at Saturn to fly by close to Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 is actually the faster probe and is at the moment about 13.6 billion miles away from our Sun. Voyager 2 is about 11.3 billion miles away.

A new study says it's okay to eat red meat. An immediate uproar follows.

Even before publication, health agencies were asking the journal not to publish the research.

Photo by Isa Terli/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Surprising Science
  • A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found little correlation between red meat consumption and health problems.
  • A number of organizations immediately contested the evidence, claiming it to be based on an irrelevant system of analysis.
  • Beef and dairy production is one of the leading drivers of climate change, forcing humans to weigh personal health against the environment.
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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

UFOs: US intelligence report finds no aliens but plenty of unidentified flying objects

A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.

Photo by Albert Antony on Unsplash
Surprising Science

On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.

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