Sunday 21 January 2018

Nasa rocket poised to cross solar system frontier into interstellar space just before Milky Way

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 at the edge of the solar system
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 at the edge of the solar system

Amy Willis

A NASA spacecraft is poised to cross the frontier of the solar system to become the first man-made object to reach the void that separates us from the milky way.

Scientists launched Voyager 1 in 1977 on what was meant to be a five-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn, however 30 years later the vessel has continued towards the boundary of our solar system 11 billion miles from Earth.

Once the spaceship crosses this border it will enter interstellar space – the void between our solar system and the rest of the universe – becoming the first man-made object to venture beyond our solar “bubble”.

Tracking the progress of the spacecraft are a group of scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. They will monitor Voyager 1 for specific signals that should indicate it has left our Sun’s magnetic field.

“When we started this whole project back in the 1970s one of the goals was to reach interstellar space but none of us knew how far that would be and how long it would take,” Ed Stone, the project’s lead scientist, told The Times.

“This is a really exciting time. We’re talking about going beyond the furthest reaches of our solar system. We haven’t decided exactly how we’re going to celebrate when it happens — I expect the first thing we’ll do is have a meeting.”

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 alongside a secondary vessel – Voyager 2 – which also remains in flight around one billion miles behind its sister ship.

The technology on board the vessels can only store 8,000 words at a time and transmits information back to Earth at 160 bits a second, with a device the strength of a fridge light bulb. Signals take 17 hours to be intercepted by a network of radio dishes in America, Australia and Spain, known as the Deep Space Network.

Scientists hope the ship will continue to transmit information until 2025.

“We’ll be sad once Voyager finally hangs up the phone, but we will have been part of an extraordinary journey,” Dr Stone said.

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