The Voyager 1 spacecraft holds the record for the most distant human-made object to ever exist. Though it was launched 44 years ago and is over 14 billion miles away from Earth, this space probe continues to send critical information and data back to Earth even as it floats through the void between our solar system and the next.
On Monday, scientists published research in the journal Nature Astronomy analyzing the data that Voyager 1’s Plasma Wave System (PWS) sent back to Earth after it passed through our solar system’s theoretical border — a region of space known as the heliopause, where the effect of our sun’s solar wind on space and celestial objects is believed to end.
In other words, the constant hum of “interstellar gas,” also known as plasma waves, lingers at our solar systems’ borders. Interstellar gas refers to the mix of radiative, gaseous matter that exists in between star systems and galaxies; it mostly consists of hydrogen and helium in various forms, including ionic, atomic, and molecular. The pitter-patter that Voyager 1 detected gives insight into how interstellar gas interacts with solar wind, along with the overall density of the heliopause region.
Voyager 1 launched in September 1977, and famously flew by Jupiter in 1979, and then Saturn in 1980. The spacecraft travelled at 38,000 miles per hour when it passed through the heliopause in August 2012. Its nuclear battery grants the craft a very long life, hence its ability to continue sending data for decades. Indeed, researchers continue to be amazed at how Voyager 1 has gleaned new details about the solar system with multiple generations of scientists and astronomers.
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