By Daniel Bird
NASA scientists are on the verge of crossing a new space boundary by entering interstellar galaxy
Scientists behind the Voyager mission are about to enter a new boundary of space, reaching deeping into the cosmos than ever before.
Spacecraft Voyager 2 joined its sister craft, Voyager 1 in November 2018 after it passed the interstellar medium. However, it’s only recently that scientists are learning about the space environment that it is currently passing through.
Speaking to IFLScience, NASA astrophysicist Jeffrey Hayes said: “This is a watershed moment in our exploration of space.
“We have for the first time left the confines of ‘home’ and are taking our very first tentative steps into the interstellar space – the Milky Way galaxy of which we are a part.”
He went on to add: “That’s an amazing distance to come in only 62 years, since the launch of the first satellite. Who knows what the next 62 will bring?”
Launched by NASA in August 1977, Voyager 2 is the second spacecraft to enter the interstellar space which is beyond the edge of our solar system. Studies released this week reveals findings from one of the five missions that Voyager 2 is on.
The combined results assist in the understanding of what is known as the “cosmic shoreline”. where the Sun ends and a “vast ocean of interstellar space begins” confirms a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.
Hayes went on to say: “Inside is the space we live in, which is the very extended influence of the Sun and the solar wind that it generates, and outside is a region that is not under that same influence,
“Both Voyagers found this to be the case. The original model was that the solar wind would just gradually fade away until one was in the interstellar medium; clearly that’s not the case.”
The astrophysicist continued: “The heliopause acts as a somewhat porous boundary that only allows some particles to traverse it.
“Because we have only very recently passed through it – in 2012 with Voyager 1, and now with Voyager 2, there are still a lot of aspects of this we don’t understand.”
Voyager 2 has also discovered that the magnetic field outside of the heliopause is stronger than measurements observed by Voyager 1, which indicates that the interstellar magnetic field changes over small distances.
However, charged particles carried by solar wind seem to “leak” into interstellar space.
Before Voyager 2 was able to take measurements of interstellar space, scientists had to work out results with data taken from a spacecraft that was much closer to Earth.
Hayes claims that the current observations are “totally new” and will require time for scientists to understand.
“In terms of space exploration, it means that we have only barely scratched the surface of what it means to be in interstellar space.
“All told, we have entered a new era of exploration that is posing as many new questions as it has answered our older ones.”
He added that it has taken 42-years to travel 143 Astronomical Units, which is the distance from the Earth to the Sun 143 times.
NASA’s Heliophysics Division is set to launch an Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission by 2024, with hopes to carry instruments that will be designed to follow up on the discoveries made by the two Voyager probes.
The scientist also said the in the 2030’s NASA will be studying an Interstellar Probe mission that wold travel 10 times the distance that the current Voyagers are at.