Thirty-five years after its launch, Voyager 1 appears to have traveled beyond the influence of the Sun and exited the heliosphere, according to a new study appearing online today. The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy.
"Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere," said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. He calls this transition boundary the "heliocliff."
Voyager 1 has exited the main solar modulation region, revealing hydrogen and helium spectra characteristic of those to be expected in the local interstellar medium. However, Webber notes, scientists are continuing to debate whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the solar system.
"It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that," Webber said. "We're in a new region. And everything we're measuring is different and exciting."
The work was funded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The Daily Galaxy via JPL