Voyager 1 Explores the 'Magnetic Highway': This still image shows NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft exploring a new region in our solar system called the "magnetic highway." In this region, the sun's magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines, allowing particles from inside the heliosphere to zip away and particles from interstellar space to zoom in. (Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Space: the final frontier. The galactic depth of our universe has fanned the flames of our imaginations for as long as mankind has been able to stare up at the skies. Now, those twinkling stars will be closer than ever, thanks to NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft, which has entered the magnetic 'interstellar' edge of our solar system.
Voyager 1 is currently entering an area of space where the behavior of cosmic magnetic traffic is not entirely out of our sun's sphere, but rather an indication that the spacecraft is exiting the sun's influence. The Voyager 1 spacecraft entered this region back in July 28, 2012. In essence, Voyager 1 started hitting interstellar space.
"Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway," said Edward Stone, a scientist involved with the Voyager spacecraft based out of the California Institute of Technology. "We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager."
Voyager 1 is the furthest human object in space, having put over 11 billion miles between Earth and itself since its launch back in 1977.
Voyager 1 has been exploring a portion of space known as the heliosheath. Back in December 2004, the spacecraft passed a line in the sand dubbed the 'termination shock.' In this region, solar winds begin slowing down and creating turbulence. Voyager 1 actually experienced solar wind speeds drop down to zero, meaning that the spacecraft was entering a transitional area of space.
While the magnetic fields may have some scientists excited, the most exciting aspect of this journey is the fact that Voyager 1 is close to entering interstellar space - beyond the sun, or any star's influence.
"We are in a magnetic region unlike any we've been in before -- about 10 times more intense than before the termination shock -- but the magnetic field data show no indication we're in interstellar space," said Leonard Burlaga, a Voyager magnetometer team member based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
"The magnetic field data turned out to be the key to pinpointing when we crossed the termination shock. And we expect these data will tell us when we first reach interstellar space."
It won't be Star Trek by a long shot, but Voyager 1 will soon show us here on Earth what interstellar space is about, and that's quite a brightly-lit piece of information to look forward to.
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