More than four decades after its launching, NASA’s famed spacecraft Voyager 2 made a milestone move into interstellar space — beyond the realm of the sun’s influence, the agency announced on Monday.
The Voyager 2, launched in 1977, is renowned as the only probe ever to study Neptune and Uranus during planetary flybys.
Now it’s accomplished an even more remarkable feat, exiting the heliosphere — the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun — and entering the space between the stars, NASA said in a statement.
Mission scientists determined that the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere — known as the heliopause, on Nov. 5. That boundary is where the bubble created by the hot solar wind ends, according to NASA.
They made that discovery through an onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), which detects the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind.
“We have an instrument which measures the wind coming from the sun, and we saw in fact that there was no longer any measurable solar wind,” Edward Stone, the Voyager mission’s project scientist, said in a video released Monday. “We had left the bubble basically.”
Voyager 2 is now just over 11 billion miles from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with it at this point, but information — moving at the speed of light — takes about 16.5 hours to reach Earth, according to NASA.
“Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” John Richardson, a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in NASA’s statement. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.”
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