Just when you thought Voyager 1 wouldn’t have anything new to report, instead, she finds herself in the midst of an interstellar commute.
The NASA JPL scientists working with the Voyager project report today that instead of finding a quiet space in between solar systems, Voyager 1 has discovered what they’re calling a “magnetic highway.” This magnetic highway is formed where the magnetic fields of the sun combine with magnetic fields of other stars.
The result is a connecting band where low-energy charged particles can travel between star systems – one set flows out of the Solar System, another travels into it. And the result for Voyager scientists is that they can “taste” the elements of other star systems by observing these particles:
“Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun’s environment, we now can taste what it’s like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,” said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it’s likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn’t what we expected, but we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.”
Voyager is currently en route to interstellar space and outside of what is known as the “heliosphere,” the zone in space created by solar wind from our sun that creates a “bubble” around our system. Scientists still do not know how long it will be before Voyager 1 exists this sphere.
As my attention is turned more and more to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I have to admit that I’m getting confused with all the various missions. Now that I’m starting to get regular press releases from JPL, they’re all starting to run together. After only last year bemoaning the loss of the Space Shuttle program, it is shocking to discover just how much is really going on in space!
So, while the JPL website lists all its programs in alphabetical order, I thought I’d take the time to list out the more news-making missions here: