Voyager 2 Spacecraft Enters Interstellar Space

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A NASA illustration depicts the positions of both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, now outside the heliosphere.

Now, while these findings show that the spacecraft has crossed this line from the heliosphere into interstellar space, it does not necessarily mean that Voyager 2 has left the solar system.

Scientists discussed the mission's status today in conjunction with this week's American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C. The relative heat of the Sun's solar wind has been replaced by the cold, dense environment of the interstellar medium. Scientists were able to use data from an instrument on Voyager 2 called the Plasma Science Experiment to detect a sharp drop in the speed of solar particles around the spacecraft on November 5, meaning that it had left the heliosphere and entered an area with no solar wind flow. Solar wind, the charged plasma particles that come out from the sun, generates this bubble.

According to Nasa, the Voyagers are still technically in our solar system. Its boundary is the outermost edge of the Oort Cloud, a group of small objects influenced by the gravity of our sun.

Both Voyagers are heading toward the Oort Cloud, a huge haze of comets swirling at a distance of between 1,000 and 100,000 AU from the sun. Regardless of where one believes the sun's sphere of influence ends, both Voyagers are poised to greatly extend it-each has a famous Golden Record onboard in the event any other spacefaring species happens across them on their lonely, eons-long sojourns between the stars. Voyager 2's instrument called the Plasma Science Experiment (PLS) is able to provide observations of the nature of this region of space.

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"I think we're all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone", Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement released Monday.

"It's super exciting", said Merav Opher, associate professor of astronomy at Boston University and guest investigator in the Voyager missions since 2005. "This is what we've all been waiting for". That likely won't happen for another 300 years, and it will take 30,000 years for Voyager 2 to fly beyond it.

Scientists define the Solar System in different ways, so Prof Stone has always been very careful not to use the exact phrase "leave the Solar System" in relation to his spacecraft. It's been cruising through space for over 41 years and traveled an incredible 18.5 billion miles in that time.

Voyager-2 (which was actually launched before Voyager-1 by about two weeks), traveled a bit slower than its peer. NASA's DSN, managed by JPL, is an worldwide network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. Proving once more up to the task, the Voyagers were remotely upgraded, and given a new mission.

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