Voyager 2 Becomes Second Spacecraft to Ever Reach Interstellar Space

December 10, 2018 Updated: December 10, 2018

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft entered interstellar space, a region of space that only one other manmade spacecraft has ever reached.

The Voyager 2 was launched in the summer of 1977, along with its twin spacecraft, Voyager 1. The two have been traversing space for decades, each with different missions. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2012, and Voyager 2 is now also there, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported.

Voyager 2 left the Heliopause, the outer boundary of the Heliosphere. It is a region beyond the solar system but still influenced by the sun, as there still exists solar wind. But in the heliosphere, the solar wind is slower due to its distance from the sun, and the influence of interstellar gas pressure, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported.

NASA knows that the Voyager 2 entered interstellar space due to the Plasma Science Experiment that still functions aboard the spacecraft. The experiment uses the measurement of electric current in plasma to detect solar wind levels. Scientist detected that the measurements dropped to zero, indicating an absence of solar wind, and therefore, entry into the new region of space. The Plasma Science Experiment stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980.

“Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” said John Richardson, principal investigator for the Plasma Science Experiment instrument, via the NASA press release. “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.”

On Nov. 5 scientist detected that as the number of heliospheric particles detected by Voyager 2 went down, the amount of galactic cosmic rays went up, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

What will Voyager 2 discover in interstellar space?

Voyager 2 visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune during its time exploring space. It also discovered 16 moons, reported. And now that Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space with a working instrument, it will send back a type of data that scientists have yet to encounter, according to a press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Voyager 2 is more than 11 billion miles from Earth. At that distance, the data takes 16 1/2 hours to travel back to Earth, even though that information is transmitted at the speed of light.

“Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, in a statement obtained by Fox. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

Both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have memorabilia from Earth. Scientist see it as a way of preserving Earth’s culture. They also contain a Golden Record of Earth, which has sounds, images, and messages from Earth.

Following the example of the previous Pioneers 10 and 11 probes, which carried plaques identifying the time and place of their origin, “NASA placed a more ambitious message aboard Voyager 1 and 2, a kind of time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials,” according to NASA’s website.

From NTD News