Voyager 2 Illuminates The Boundary of Interstellar Space

Voyager 2

Voyager 2

"Without this new data from Voyager 2, we wouldn't know if what we were seeing with Voyager 1 was characteristic of the entire heliosphere or specific just to the location and time when it crossed". Here are the five biggest takeaways. (The plasma outside is still colder than the plasma inside.) Voyager 2 also observed a slight increase in plasma density just before it exited the heliosphere, indicating that the plasma is compressed around the inside edge of the bubble.

Researchers from the University of Iowa have been carrying out this research. The changes confirmed that the probe had entered a new region of space.

Before the Voyager missions, scientists predicted that the solar bubble just sort of dissolved into interstellar space as you ventured farther and farther from the sun.

When Voyager 2 exited the heliosphere a year ago, scientists announced that its two energetic particle detectors noticed dramatic changes: The rate of heliospheric particles detected by the instruments plummeted, while the rate of cosmic rays (which typically have higher energies than the heliospheric particles) increased dramatically and remained high. The heliosphere is 11 billion miles from Earth, which is well beyond Pluto's orbit.

The part of the heliopause where Voyager 2 passed was thinner and smoother than the spot where Voyager 1 left.

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". From the first Voyager-1 and now Voyager-2 we come to know that there remains a strong boundary.

"Think of a cold front that forms when a very cold air mass comes down to the US from Canada", said Don Gurnett, professor of physics at the University of Iowa.

"We also have galactic cosmic rays, which are out in the interstellar space trying to flow in", Stone said, referring to the high-energy atomic particles whizzing around the universe. A similar process regularly occurs between the Earth and Sun's magnetic field, so it would be no surprise to find the same thing happening between the Sun's (magnetic) field and the interstellar field.

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Using data collected from the Low-Energy Charged Particle (LECP) instrument on Voyager 2, which is almost identical to that flown on Voyager 1, the team say that observations close to the heliopause show relatively large magnetic field magnitudes. Astronomers expected the direction of the magnetic field would be very different between the two.

But that does not mean they will disappear, said Bill Kurth, a researcher at the University of Iowa and co-author of the study focusing on plasma waves. Again, all this data taken together raises more questions than it can answer. Turns out the sun's impact goes beyond its own borders.

However, the width of the layer seen by Voyager 2 matches the width of a so-called stagnation region detected by Voyager 1. The probe has been traveling through interstellar space - even riding the momentum of interstellar shock waves - for several years now.

Not only that says Richardson, but the interstellar medium closest to the boundary is more variable and hotter than expected. The space between stars also contains cosmic rays.

"This is a very exciting time for us", Stone said.

The journey of the 42-year-old Voyager probe therefore provides rare new insights into the suburbs of our cosmic home. That material is undergoing natural decay.

That gives valuable clues to the structure of the heliosphere-the bubble, shaped much like a wind sock, created by the sun's wind as it extends to the boundary of the solar system. "In another five years or so, we may not have enough scientific instruments to power it any longer".

Both Voyager probes were only built to last 12 years. There are now no plans for a successor to the Voyager program (the only other spacecraft headed to such distances, New Horizons, will run out of power at 90 AU), but the success of the missions and the questions they raise will undoubtedly inspire these scientists and engineers to come up with new proposals to study the heliosphere and beyond.

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