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Surprising Science

Voyager 1 Isn’t Done Surprising Us Yet

The 35-year-old spacecraft is currently traveling through a previously undiscovered zone between the heliosphere and interstellar space.

What’s the Latest Development?

At the recent annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, scientists reported that Voyager 1 had identified a previously unknown zone between the heliosphere (the area encompassing the solar system) and interstellar space. They described the zone as a “magnetic highway” which enables particles from the heliosphere to travel out and particles from deep space to travel in. They estimated that the zone is between five to 10 times the distance from the sun, which means it may be another two or three years before Voyager 1 enters deep space.

What’s the Big Idea?

Scientists had thought that as Voyager 1 moved further away from the solar system, the magnetic field would change direction. The fact that it hasn’t, combined with the particle directions observed, indicate to them that that the craft is still somewhere short of deep space. However, space physicist Gary Zank expressed skepticism: “Different theoretical models predict a different looking boundary….It would be nice for the theory and the observations to agree all at once.” Since they weren’t expecting the zone to exist in the first place, it’s hard to say exactly when Voyager 1 will be gone, so to speak, for good.

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