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

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

  • 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.

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Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
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Space travel could create language unintelligible to people on Earth

A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.

Cylindrical space colony.

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center.
Surprising Science
  • A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
  • Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
  • This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
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Your emotions are the new hot commodity — and there’s an app for that

Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Personal Growth

Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.

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