Voyager Spacecraft Enters a Strange, Mysterious Region 11 Billion Miles from Earth --Upending Long-Standing Theories
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June 28, 2013

Voyager Spacecraft Enters a Strange, Mysterious Region 11 Billion Miles from Earth --Upending Long-Standing Theories

 

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Launched 36 years ago, the Voyager 1 spacecraft speeds a rate of about a million miles a day entering a bizarre and mysterious region more than 11 billion miles from Earth that scientists are struggling to make sense of. It's a region where the fierce solar winds have all but vanished and pieces of atoms blasted across the galaxy by ancient supernovae drift into the solar system, the NASA probe is causing scientists to question some long-standing theories on the nature of our solar system and life beyond its cold dark edge dubbed the "magnetic highway" --a newly discovered area of the heliosphere, the vast bubble of magnetism that shields the solar system from deadly cosmic rays.

Scientists had long envisioned this outermost layer of the solar systems, the heliosheath, to be a curved, distinct boundary separating the solar system from the rest of the Milky Way where three things would happen: The sun's solar winds would become quiet; galactic cosmic rays would bombard Voyager; and the direction of the dominant magnetic field would change significantly because it would be coming from interstellar space, not the sun.

“The models that have been thought to predict what should happen are all incorrect,” said physicist Stamatios Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who is lead author of one of three new papers on Voyager appearing in Science on June 27. “We essentially have absolutely no reliable roadmap of what to expect at this point.”

Voyager 1 entered the edge of the solar wind in 2003, when the spacecraft’s instruments indicated that particles around it were moving subsonically, having slowed down after traveling far from the sun. Then, toward the end of July 2012, Voyager 1's instruments reported that solar winds had suddenly dropped by half, while the strength of the magnetic field almost doubled, according to the studies. Those values then switched back and forth five times before they became fixed on Aug. 25. Since then, solar winds have all but disappeared, but the direction of the magnetic field has barely budged. This transition happened extremely fast, in a matter of a few days.

 

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"The jumps indicate multiple crossings of a boundary unlike anything observed previously," a team of Voyager scientists wrote in one of the studies. They labeled the new area the heliosheath depletion region.

At the same time, the measurements of galactic cosmic rays increased significantly, which would be “just as we expected if we were outside the solar wind,” said physicist Ed Stone of Caltech, Voyager’s project scientist and lead author of one of the Science papers. It looked almost as if Voyager 1 had left the sun’s influence. But here's the baffling discovery: if the solar wind was completely gone, galactic cosmic rays should be streaming in from all directions.

Instead, Voyager detected an increase in galactic cosmic rays — but found that at times they were moving in parallel from one direction instead of randomly. And even though the solar particles had dropped off, the probe hasn’t measured any real change in the magnetic fields around it. That’s hard to explain because the galaxy’s magnetic field is thought to be inclined 60 degrees from the sun’s field.

"This was conceptually unthinkable for cosmic rays," said Stamatios Krimigis, a solar physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and leader of another one of the studies. "There is no cosmic ray physicist I know who ever expected that they would not all be coming equally from all directions."

"This is a new region that we didn't know existed," Krimigis says. "We have no road map, and we're waiting to see what's going to happen next."

The Daily Galaxy via NASA, Wired, and the LA Times

Image credit: Southwest Research Institute


Comments

If we were never wrong, there would be no excitement when we were right. The journey would not be exhilarating but complacent and exceedingly boring. This is where humanity excels. New and unexpected discoveries that create a necessity to create new ideas and innovations and these are the dna of invention.

Well said, John.

I'm just amazed that a spacecraft launched in 1977 is still teaching us things about the Universe.

Seems like it`s a kind of order in the galaxy. I hope now we will review the opinions about how a galaxy works and the forces that keeps it together or not making it crush inwards, never knows, it may help somehow to change opinions about dark energy and dark matter.

if you know the books and stories of the Dutch writer, Jaap Hiddinga. who has had outer body experiences, and it is always taken by an angel. and then explains how the universe works. that allows him to see that angel again, the Dutch title of the book is: visions and exits. if it is to get in english, it’s a must.
but it will be crap again for science.
gr arnoud from Netherlands.

GREAT SUPPORT TO MY THEORY HAS BEEN FOUND.I am thrilled.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CH9S5XQ/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

@john If we were never wrong, there would be no excitement when we were right. - Well said

It goes to show that we still have so much to learn. Imagine the weight of this discovery, when the farthest we reach is just edges of the solar system. We're totally blind beyond the point of the solar system.

Mankind was wrong about the solar system? The actual state of existence was "conceptually unthinkable" until now? How could so many scientists be wrong? Wait; does that mean Algore and Obama could be wrong about man-made climate change? I thought scientists had reached "consensus" that the last 100 years of industrialization are leading to the imminent destruction of our
4.5 billion year old planet. Kornfused.

In April of this year I published a book, which combined the last 10 years of my research into a concise dissertation of my thoughts on magnetism, the earth, the sun, our solar system and the cosmos. It is only by chance that I published my book before this article appeared because now I can safely claim that I did not formulate my theory in response to the Voyagers data. I gave an explanation for the observations and also for what you will find beyond this region of space. My theory is called the Magnetic Structure of Matter (MSM) and explains the unifying force which governs our physical cosmos and brings together all elements of our physical world, governing everything from the very largest body to the very smallest particle.http://www.helical-universe.info/helical-universe/

Amazing article. Imagine, we could be learning so much more about the universe, sending out probes, manned missions. But instead half the US annual budget goes towards the military and making weapons to kill our fellow man.

I am happy we are finding out more about the universe we live in daily. Exciting times are ahead for humanity, If we keep exploring!

Just a question; How do we keep in contact with the probe if it is 11 billion miles away?


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