Tag: heliopause

According To NASA, Voyager 2 May Be Leaving the Solar System Soon

This NASA diagram illustrates the hypothesized positions of Voyagers 1 and 2 in the solar system as of October 2018. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space in 2012. Voyager 2 may soon hit that milestone.

Want to get away? Want to get far, far away? Voyager 2 has you beat: The spacecraft, launched in 1977, is approaching the edge of the solar system, according to a NASA statement released today (Oct. 5).

That announcement is based on two different instruments on board, which in late August began noticing a small uptick in how many cosmic rays — superfast particles pummeling the solar system from outer space — were hitting the spacecraft.

That matches pretty well with what Voyager 1 began experiencing about three months before its own grand departure in 2012, but scientists can’t be sure of the milestone until after it has been passed.

We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there’s no doubt about that,” Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone, a physicist at Caltech, said in the statement.




We’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause. We’re not there yet — that’s one thing I can say with confidence.

The team behind Voyager 2 knows that the spacecraft is currently almost 11 billion miles (17.7 billion kilometers) away from Earth.

But it’s hard to predict when the spacecraft will actually leave the solar system by passing through what scientists call the heliopause.

The heliopause is the bubble around our solar system formed by the solar wind, the rush of charged particles that constantly streams off our sun.

The rate of energetic interstellar particles detected by Voyager 2 started to rise at the end of August 2018. Each point represents a 6-hour average.

But that solar wind ebbs and flows over the course of the sun’s 11-year cycle, which means that the bubble of our solar system itself expands and contracts.

And because Voyager 2 isn’t following precisely in its predecessor’s steps, scientists aren’t positive that its cosmic exit will result in identical changes to the data that the spacecraft reports.

So until Voyager 2 passes through the heliopause, there’s no way to be sure precisely where it is with regard to the heliopause.

Whenever it does successfully flee the solar system, Voyager 2 will become just the second human-made object to do so.

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NASA Will Launch A Probe To Study The Solar System’s Protective Bubble In 2024

NASA will launch a new mission in 2024 to help scientists better understand the bubble that surrounds the solar system, agency officials said.

This huge bubble, which known as the heliosphere, is created by the sun; it consists of charged solar particles and solar magnetic fields.

The heliosphere helps protect Earth and other solar system bodies from space radiation, blocking some highly energetic cosmic rays that originated in interstellar space.

But the heliosphere boundary is far from impenetrable. The new NASA mission, called the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), will collect and study fast-moving particles that manage to make it through.

This boundary is where our sun does a great deal to protect us. IMAP is critical to broadening our understanding of how this ‘cosmic filter’ works,” Dennis Andrucyk, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement Friday (June 1).




The implications of this research could reach well beyond the consideration of Earthly impacts as we look to send humans into deep space.

IMAP was chosen from a stable of candidate proposals submitted late last year, NASA officials said.

The probe will launch to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1, a gravitationally stable spot in space about 930,000 miles sunward from our planet.

IMAP will use 10 onboard science instruments to characterize the particles streaking through that neighborhood.

Such work should shed light on the interaction between the interstellar medium and the solar wind — the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun.

And help researchers better understand how cosmic rays are accelerated inside the heliosphere, among other things, NASA officials said.

The cost of the mission is capped at $492 million, not including the launch vehicle. IMAP’s principal investigator is David McComas of Princeton University, and the mission will be managed by The Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

IMAP is the fifth mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program. The other four are the Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics mission (TIMED), which launched in December 2001.

Hinode, a collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that lifted off in September 2006.

The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), a joint mission with the European Space Agency that launched in October 2006; and the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which launched in March 2015.

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