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The Earth’s first interstellar species

Phil PlaIt tells us that Voyager 1 has apparently left the solar system. Wo.

The spacecraft Voyager 1, launched on Sep. 5, 1977, has apparently left the solar system.

A new paper has just been released showing that Voyager 1 has definitely breached the edge of the Sun’s heliosphere, the huge region around the solar system dominated by the Sun’s solar wind. This is essentially confirmation of what had already been announced in December 2012, so this isn’t exactly new news, but given the paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, this makes it official.

Still apparently, but official. I like the inclusion of “apparently” – it nudges us outsiders into grasping that this isn’t like seeing Elvis leave the building.

So where is it now? Well, we have to be careful. This is literally unexplored territory. Most models of how the heliosphere works have a fuzzy boundary between inside and outside (though Voyager 1 is definitely outside). There could be another region outside of that, for example, though no one is sure. More data from Voyager 1 may be able to clear that up over time.

But either way, it has slipped the surly bounds of the Sun’s influence and is still moving with enough velocity to carry it out into the galaxy. Our proxy, our envoy, is now amongst the stars, where it belongs.

Exciting. Plus I like the friendly shout-out to Surly Amy.

Comments

  1. Acolyte of Sagan says

    I know I shouldn’t but it’s traditional, so I will:
    Godspeed, Voyager 1.

    I often wonder if that record will ever be played…….

  2. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    Maybe I’m just so emotionally overwhelmed by other things, but this news is causing me a stream of tears. I hope we pass it by someday on our way to meet the friendly neighbors.

  3. UnknownEric: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama? says

    Y’know, when religious people try to claim that we atheists are unable of awe, I’ll just point into space and say, “Voyager 1 has left our solar system. I am awed by that. Invisible sky friend? Not so much.”

  4. Acolyte of Sagan says

    machintelligence
    March 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm (UTC -7)

    I rather hope we eventually bring it back and place it in the Smithsonian

    Me too, but I rather fear we are hoping against hope.

  5. Yellow Thursday says

    Not to burst your bubble, but “slipped the surly bonds” is part of the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. The poem attempts to capture the sense of wonder of flying and seems appropriate here, despite the last line referencing God.

    My first introduction to the poem was a Bloom County comic strip.

  6. hjhornbeck says

    Um, I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but… uh… you might want to get out your umbrellas:

    [Correction, March 20, 2013: I wrote the piece below after reading a press release from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and after reading the professional science journal paper announcing the results. Just after posting this I received a press release from NASA/JPL quoting Ed Stone, the Voyager project scienist, saying “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.” […] ]

    Yeah. We’re in uncharted territory, with nothing but a few models to guide us. I bet we’ll have been outside the solar system for five-ish years by the time scientists definitively call it.

  7. sinned34 says

    Bring it back and put it in the Smithsonian? Voyager 1 doesn’t belong in a museum, it deserves to be where it is, traversing the cosmos, performing the duty it was created for.

  8. aziraphale says

    The Earth’s first interstellar species? That’s overstating somewhat. Voyager is a great achievement, but it’s nowhere near bridging the gap to another star, which I would regard as a requirement for being interstellar. By my estimate Voyager has covered about 1/2000 of the distance to Proxima Centauri.

  9. Ulysses says

    We may have to curb our enthusiasm just a bit. JPL doesn’t think Voyager 1 is in interstellar space yet.

    “The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA’s Voyager 1 has left the solar system,” said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

  10. says

    Oh. Never mind.

    Ok now we can get excited about the way science self-corrects! :D

    “Surly bonds of earth” – that rings another bell, come to think of it. Donne?

    [wanders off in the direction of Google]

  11. sailor1031 says

    Good. I was sure OB would know the Magee poem. John Gillespie Magee was an american who joined the RCAF early in WW2 and was assigned to a RAF fighter squadron. He was killed in 1941, in an accident I believe. His poem is still very popular with pilots. My wingman back in the late fifties – early sixties had a copy of it on bronze tablet on oak hanging on the wall of his basement bar area. I saw it so many times I eventually learned it by heart.

  12. Claire Ramsey says

    Well, how were we to know that there’s a magnetic highway to cross on the way to the official outsides of the solar system? I didn’t know about it. But I’m really looking forward to news (and pictures) of the magnetic field’s change in direction. That will be something to note!!

  13. Robert B. says

    And Bartlett quoted Reagan quoting Magee, which is where I know the line from. “The Crackpots and These Women,” I believe the episode was called.

  14. bad Jim says

    Voyager is well beyond the Kuiper belt, but still inside the Oort cloud. It might be on the boundary between the solar wind and galactic weather, but the neighborhood is still gravitationally tied to the sun.

  15. says

    I think people are missing the very best part of all of this…

    More data from Voyager 1 may be able to clear that up over time.

    We’re still getting DATA from a chunk of aluminum we tossed into space thirty four years ago? Something that was built before the invention of cell phones, walkmen or rollerblades is still sending us data fro the depths of space? That is awe inspiring no matter what imaginary or real line it has crossed!

  16. says

    No I know. I love that. I was so awe-inspired by the technical feat of putting the Mars Rover down with its equipment intact – it still give me chills!

  17. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Lou Doench
    March 21, 2013 at 8:48 am (UTC -7) Link to this comment

    I think people are missing the very best part of all of this…

    More data from Voyager 1 may be able to clear that up over time.

    We’re still getting DATA from a chunk of aluminum we tossed into space thirty four years ago? Something that was built before the invention of cell phones, walkmen or rollerblades is still sending us data fro the depths of space? That is awe inspiring no matter what imaginary or real line it has crossed!

    Yup, and prepare for your head to explode: according to a Horizon (BBC science programme) episode I watched earlier this week, the signal being received at the Arecebo(? it’s half-past medication, the brain’s nodding off for the night) radio telescope is less than one-millionth of a watt!
    Not bad for a 35-year old lump of aluminium with less computing power than an ipod (ipod, not ipad).

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