It’s official, Voyager 1, that Earth-ambassador for 1970s technology, has left the heliosphere – the bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that surrounds the sun and its planetary progeny. Scientists back-calculated that it likely left this boundary on or around August 25, which coincidentally is when my wife and I hosted the biggest party ever. I knew something had to be in Galactic alignment.
I’m sure I’ve seen this same announcement at periodic intervals over the last five years. Or maybe it was ‘Almost leaving’ those prior times. Because Voyager actually did have to leave before the scientists tracking the spaceship could really be sure it had. This time it really is official. Apparently a fortuitous burst of activity from the sun caused the plasma near the spacecraft to vibrate, which allowed scientists to calculate how much was present. The plasma beyond the heliosphere is about 40 times denser than inside it, giving the clues that pinned down Voyager 1’s location. Beyond the heliosphere the plasma (BTW it’s a lot less dense there than around Earth – about 10,000 times less) grows colder and the outward pressure from the sun tailors off, causing it to grow relatively more dense than the plasma inside the limit of the heliosphere.
Voyager 1 is currently 18.77 billion kilometres (11.66 billion mi) from Earth, entering a vast new region of space where nothing else has been before.
So far Voyager 1 has seen the expected drop in solar particles and jump in cosmic rays, but has not observed the predicted shift in magnetic field orientation. No doubt the first of many surprises. Right now scientists are taking another look at the models that predicted this change in magnetic field.
This is a remarkable feat for humanity, but I can’t help but compare this with the sort of achievements outlined in fiction. I recently re-watched Event Horizon, where the experimental ship of the same name returned from some ‘other space’ to Saturn after being missing for almost a decade. Coming through a black hole no less, courtesy of its on-board singularity in the Gravity Drive. So when is this? Why in 2047. The critic in me wonders if we will even have a human footprint on Mars by then, let alone vast spaceships with stasis chambers roaming the solar system.
So are you encouraged, inspired, or left flat by Voyager’s achievement?