Hello Interstellar Space!


NASA launched it into space on September 5, 1977. It carries with it a gold-plated record on which sounds of Earth, Mozart and Chuck Berry can be heard. It houses a number of various spectrometers, a polarimeter and a magnetometer. Can you guess what it is? Give up or did the “golden record” give it away? Yes, of course we are referencing NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft and it has just become the first man-made object to travel beyond our own solar system and into interstellar space! In fact, it is an estimated 12 billion miles from our sun after 36 years of space travel. NASA has reported that it takes the crafts radio wave transmissions back to Earth a whopping 17 hours to reach us on the home planet. Despite being this far from our reach, NASA believes that the craft will be sending data transmissions back to Earth for another 13 years.


The definitive proof that Voyager 1 had indeed crossed into interstellar space was provided by a huge coronal mass ejection by our sun in March 2012 and took the solar wind about 13 months to finally reach the craft. The magnetic field given off by our sun disturbed the plasma, a medium some 40 times denser than the outskirts of our solar system, surrounding the probe. This enabled the onboard plasma wave instrument to determine the density of the surrounding media via wave-particle interactions. From this data scientists were able to definitively conclude that Voyager 1 had made it to interstellar space.


Over its 36 year journey, Voyager 1 has been critical in the study of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons. In fact, Voyager 1 is responsible for the discovery of the rings of Jupiter and the volcanic activity on Io. Voyager’s tour of the planets ceased in 1980 due to gravitational trajectory after passing by Titan for atmospheric studies. Some images of Jupiter and Io taken by the craft in 1979 and 1980 are displayed throughout the article.

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