(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have analyzed data from Voyager 2’s journey into interstellar space and made some amazing discoveries.
Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in August and October 1977, respectively, to explore the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.
This mission, as a result, gave us a huge amount of knowledge about distant planets and images of previously unknown moons.
Even more than 40 years after they were launched, spacecraft continue to provide scientists with unprecedented information about how the universe works.
In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space. Last year, Voyager 2 joined its colleague in reaching the edge of the system, a distance 119 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.
The transition from our solar system to interstellar space could take less than a day, the researchers say.
The heliopause is the theoretical boundary at which the Sun’s solar wind meets interstellar winds that are blown out of supernovae that exploded millions of years ago.
Cosmic radiation tries to penetrate our star system, but only 30% reaches the Earth. Voyager 1 and 2 were able to study changes in magnetic fields inside and outside our solar system.
The two spacecraft reached interstellar space at different periods of solar activity, which means conditions along the boundary were markedly different from each other.
Voyager 1 reached the interstellar boundary during solar minimum, while Voyager 2 did so during solar maximum, a period of increased star activity.
The researchers also found that solar material was “leaking” into the interstellar medium.
“This situation was very different from what happened with Voyager 1, where there were almost no traces of matter,” Tom Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory told an October 31 press conference.
In the case of Voyager 1, the team saw the opposite effect: interstellar particles were actively leaking into our system.
The researchers hope to reanalyze the data in the near future to understand how and why these particles are slipping out of the solar system.
Secrets of space
Another surprising discovery was the fact that the direction of the magnetic fields both inside and outside the heliopause was aligned, as in the case of Voyager 1.
Leonard Burlaga of NASA explained that seeing such an alignment twice is a huge rarity for astronomers. Voyager 2 also found that the strength of the magnetic field was stronger in interstellar space.
The heliopause itself turned out to be much thinner and smoother than expected. It also turned out that the interstellar medium, hidden near the boundary layer, where the solar and interstellar winds meet, is much hotter and more unpredictable than previously thought.
It became clear that the boundary layer itself could be more complex, with several sublayers of different temperatures, densities, and particle velocities.
The Voyager 1 and 2 missions have about five years left before the ships exhaust their science instruments. Much remains to be explored, so deciphering the data fuels interest in exploring interstellar space even faster, further and deeper.
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