After traveling through space for the past 36 years Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space. NASA held a press conference earlier today to make the announcement and give geeks around the world spacegasms.
“Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before, marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science, and as it enters interstellar space, it adds a new chapter in human scientific dreams and endeavors,” NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said in a statement. “Perhaps some future deep-space explorers will catch up with Voyager, our first interstellar envoy, and reflect on how this intrepid spacecraft helped enable their future.”
Despite what you may see on other news sites about Voyager 1 leaving the Solar System this is not the case. No where in NASA’s press conference today did they say that. A lot of news sources, including CNN and the BBC among others, are saying this for some reason.
A couple of things we know for sure about Voyager 1. It’s the gone farther than any other manmade object in history. It’s currently traveling in interstellar space. It has sent back the first ever recordings of what interstellar space sounds like. It’s traveling far enough away that it is no longer flying through the solar winds that permeate the entire Solar System.
But what everyone really wants to know is whether or not Voyager 1 has officially left the bonds of our Solar System. And the answer to that is, no, it hasn’t. It is currently traveling through the Oort cloud. Scientists form NASA JPL have even addressed the issue explaining that these sources are wrong.
It’s a very fine point and many people don’t realize the Oort cloud is in interstellar space AND it’s considered part of the solar system. We knew many media would make the error and we tried to make it clear in interviews. And you’re right — none of our materials say we’ve exited the solar system. Thankfully, some media have recognized the distinction.
Scientists have been waiting for three major changes to happen to Voyager’s instruments to alert us to the fact that it’s left the solar system: a big drop in solar particles, a dramatic jump in galactic cosmic rays and a shift in the orientation of the surrounding magnetic field.
Two of the three changes that scientists expected to see have taken place. What’s throwing everyone for a loop is that the direction of the magnetic field V1 is measuring hasn’t switched and that’s a big one for knowing for sure if it’s officially escaped the effects of our sun.
Celebrity reactions to Voyager 1 announcement
Congratulations, humanity. We officially sent a thing we made into interstellar space. It's amazing what we can do when we work together!
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) September 12, 2013
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 12, 2013
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) September 12, 2013
— NASA (@NASA) September 12, 2013
Space IS the final frontier. Congrats to NASA, and to humankind. http://t.co/BOu6KSkWyP
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) September 12, 2013
Engineers and scientists did an AMA on Reddit today following the announcement. Someone asked where Voyager 1 was headed as it prepared to leave the Solar System and got a fantastic answer.
DIRECTION OF VOYAGER 1 Voyager 1 is escaping the solar system at a speed of about 3.6 AU per year, 35 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the north, in the general direction of the Solar Apex (the direction of the Sun’s motion relative to nearby stars). Voyager 1 will leave the solar system aiming toward the constellation Ophiuchus. In the year 40,272 AD, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) called AC+79 3888. DIRECTION OF VOYAGER 2 Voyager 2 is also escaping the solar system at a speed of about 3.2 AU per year, 48 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the south toward the constellations of Sagitarrius and Pavo. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda. EMF