NASA’s Voyager 2 probe just entered interstellar space

This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes outside of the heliosphere a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto

The probe's twin, the Voyager 1, was the first to reach interstellar space in 2012 although Voyager 2 is far more interesting as it still has working instruments.

One of the big causes for excitement is that an instrument called Plasma Science Experiment, which malfunctioned aboard Voyager 1, is still functional on Voyager 2, which will allow it to send back new data on what it's like in the space between stars. They both conducted close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn.

The twin Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977.

Voyager 2 may be freshly interstellar, but it won't be anywhere near another star until 40,000 years from now, when it will pass within 1.7 light-years of the small red dwarf star Ross 248.

Data from Voyager 2 is beamed back to Earth at the speed of light. "Now we're looking forward to what we'll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause". The fact that the two spacecraft are in different positions in space allows for scientists to retrieve data from different parts of outer space around the solar system. Now no solar wind is being observed, indicating the craft is in interstellar space. It's trailing Voyager 1, which reached interstellar space in 2012. So we really didn't know if Voyager 2 would cross three years ago or three years from now. In about 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will be within 4.3 light-years (25 trillion miles) of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

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When monitoring data collected by Voyager 2's Plasma Science Experiment (PSE) on november 5, 2018, the mission detected a very sharp decline in the quantity of high-energy particles associated with the solar wind. At the same time, Voyager 2 saw more high-energy particles from elsewhere in the galaxy, confirming that the probe had left our cosmic cul-de-sac. The two spacecraft are expected to last billions of years, drifting around in space and could be the only available evidence of human civilization in deep space for a prospective advanced civilization.

Forty-one years after it launched into space, NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft has crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere. This is the border that NASA believes both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have sailed past. A single AU is equal to the distance from Earth to the sun, or 93 million miles.

"Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we're seeing is new", said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. But it hasn't left the Solar System, according to the release-it has yet to enter the hypothetical Oort cloud of objects still influenced by the Sun's gravity.

That means that eventually, the team will need to turn off instruments in order to coax as much science as possible out of the spacecraft before they can no longer operate. Measurements taken by Voyager 2 on November 5 showed the same pattern of differences measured five years ago by Voyager 1.

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