In 2019, a 42-year-old NASA mission gave unprecedented insight into our Solar System
Voyager 2's crossing into interstellar space revealed surprising new details about our small corner of the Milky Way.
In 2018, the spacecraft Voyager 2 finally crossed over into interstellar space after a 42-year journey. And in November 2019, scientists revealed some unprecedented data from the mission’s observations of our host star and the outer limits of our Solar System.
These initial findings give scientists a deeper look into solar wind and the Sun’s heliosphere — essentially the region of space encompassing the Solar System.
This is #5 on Inverse’s 20 wildest space discoveries of 2019
The findings were published in four papers in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Voyager 2 launched on August 20, 1977 and, at the time, it was still not unclear whether a spacecraft could withstand the Sun’s radiation at a close distance, or if it could even survive the decades-long journey.
But survive it did. Voyager 2 and its sister spacecraft Voyager 1 both crossed into interstellar space, albeit at different times. Voyager 1, the speedier craft, crossed into interstellar space in 2011 in the northern hemisphere. Voyager 2 made the leap on November 5, 2018 in the southern hemisphere.
The differences between these crossings give scientists a unique opportunity to compare each craft’s measurements. The data also enable scientists to observe the Sun the same way they observe other stars in the galaxy — looking from outside of the boundary surrounding our own solar system.
“There were some unresolved questions from Voyager 1’s crossing, and people looked forward to Voyager 2 being able to tell the temperature out there” in the interstellar medium, Jamie Rankin, a research scientist at Princeton University, told Inverse in November. “The time difference allows us to have some idea about how the Sun influences this region, and the solar weather.”
Scientists estimate that Voyager 2 still has some five years left of its estimated lifespan. During that time, it will continue exploring interstellar space, feeding measurements back to eagerly awaiting scientists on Earth.
*As 2019 draws to a close, Inverse is counting down our top 20 space stories from 2019. You can read them here. Some are wild, some are mind-boggling, and others will change how you think about the universe. This has been #5. Read the original story here.