Tag: interstellar space

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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Astronomers Race To Study A Mystery Object From Outside Our Solar System

For the first time that we know, an interstellar visitor has zoomed through our solar system.

The small space rock, tentatively called A/2017 U1, is about a quarter of a mile long and astronomers across the world are racing to study it before it departs just as quickly as it arrived.

We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rob Weryk, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

On Oct. 19, Dr. Weryk was reviewing images captured by the university’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on the island of Maui when he came across the object.

At first he thought it was a type of space rock known as a near earth object, but he realized its motion did not make sense. It was much faster than any asteroid or comet he had seen before.

He quickly realized that it was not of this solar system. “It’s moving so fast that the Sun can’t capture it into an orbit,” Dr. Weryk said.




After contacting a colleague at the European Space Agency to discuss the find, he submitted it to the Minor Planet Center, which tracks objects in the solar system, to share with other astronomers.

I was not expecting to see anything like this during my career, even though we knew it was possible and that these objects exist,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigational engineer with NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers had predicted such an occurrence, but this is the first time that it has been recorded. For the past few days Dr. Farnocchia has been calculating the strange object’s path.

It was obvious that the object has a hyperbolic orbit,” he said, meaning that its trajectory is open-ended rather than elliptical like the objects in our solar system.

That shows that it came from outside the solar system and will leave the solar system.

The object came closest to the Sun on Sept. 9, at a distance of about 23 million miles. With a boost from the star’s gravity, it zoomed by at about 55 miles per second with respect to the Sun, Dr. Farnocchia said.

Then on Oct. 14 the object came within about 15 million miles of Earth, zipping by at about 37 miles per second, with respect to the Earth.

That’s more than three times as much velocity as the escape trajectory for the New Horizons spacecraft, which completed a flyby of Pluto in 2015, he said.

Now it’s moving away at about 25 miles per second, he said, and will exit the solar system at about 16 miles per second.

That is faster than the current velocity of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which became the first spacecraft from Earth to enter interstellar space in August 2012.

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