Nasa probe Voyager 2 reveals cosmic findings from interstellar space

Evening Standard 1 week ago

The Nasa probe which last year became the second man-made object to “leave” the Solar System has reported back with its initial cosmic findings.

Voyager 2 left Earth 42 years ago - 16 days before its twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 - and crossed the outer edge of the Sun's protective bubble on November 5, 2018.

It entered the interstellar medium - which is the region outside the heliopause made up of gas, dust and cosmic rays - six years after Voyager 1 due to its slower trajectory.

In a series of papers published in the journal Nature Astronomy, researchers confirmed the spacecraft's journey into the "space between the stars" by noting a "definitive jump" in the density of the plasma - made up of charged particles and gas - in interstellar space.

Nasa undated handout illustration shows the position of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 (PA)

According to the scientists, this jump was detected by one of the instruments on Voyager 2 and is evidence of the probe making its way "from the hot, lower-density plasma characteristic of the solar wind to the cool, higher-density plasma of interstellar space".

It is also similar to the plasma density jump experienced by Voyager 1 when it crossed into interstellar space, the researchers added.

Among many things, the astronomers are looking to gain a better understanding of how the solar winds - the stream of charge particles coming out of the Sun - interact with the interstellar winds - made up of particles from other stars.

Dr Edward Stone, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology and former director of the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "We are trying to understand the nature of the boundary where these two winds collide."

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American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins lift off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in the mammoth-sized Saturn V rocket on their way to the moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969
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Trailing a column of flame and smoke that dwarfs it, Space Shuttle Endeavour leaps into the clear blue Florida sky on mission STS-99 in 2000
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The International Space Station continues its orbit around the Earth as Expedition 50 astronauts captured this night image of sparkling cities and a sliver of daylight framing the northern hemisphere in 2017
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The astronomers believe the probes' journeys - with their different mission goals and trajectories - give "valuable clues" about the structure of the heliosphere - a vast bubble encompassing the Sun and the Solar System.

Bill Kurth, a research scientist at the University of Iowa and one of the authors of the studies, said: "It implies that the heliosphere is symmetric, at least at the two points where the Voyager spacecraft crossed."

In one of the papers, the researchers suggest that the interstellar medium near the heliopause is hotter than expected, with a temperature of around 30,000-50,000K (29,000-49,000C).

In another study, a different team reported the presence of layers "on both sides of the heliopause".

While scientists were aware of the inner layer, the presence of the outer layer became evident only after Voyager 2 crossed into interstellar space.

The researchers said evidence gathered by both probes show that the interstellar medium, along with the heliopause and the interstellar magnetic fields, "form a complex interconnected dynamical system".

The Voyagers were sent initially to study the outer planets including Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, but then just kept on going.

Additional reporting by Press Association. 


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