Hubble takes a look at both Voyagers’ interstellar path

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Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have taken a peek at the interstellar material that the two Voyager spacecraft will travel through as they move out and leave the solar system in the coming decades.

Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles from Earth, making it the farthest human-made object ever built. In about 40,000 years, after the spacecraft will no longer be operational and will not be able to gather new data, it will pass within 1.6 light-years of the star Gliese 445, in the constellation Camelopardalis. Its twin, Voyager 2, is 10.5 billion miles from Earth, and will pass 1.7 light-years from the star Ross 248 in about 40,000 years.

For the next 10 years, the Voyagers will be making measurements of interstellar material, magnetic fields, and cosmic rays along their trajectories. Hubble complements the Voyagers’ observations by gazing at two sight lines along each spacecraft’s path to map interstellar structure along their star-bound routes. Each sight line stretches several light-years to nearby stars. Sampling the light from those stars, Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph measured how interstellar material absorbed some of the starlight, leaving telltale spectral fingerprints.

Hubble found that Voyager 2 will move out of the interstellar cloud that surrounds the solar system in a couple thousand years. The astronomers, based on Hubble data, predict that the spacecraft will spend 90,000 years in a second cloud before passing into a third interstellar cloud.

This is very clever science. It allows data from Hubble to complement the data from the two Voyager spacecraft to better understand the interstellar regions that surround our solar system.


  • LocalFluff

    Hey! One of the clouds the Voyagers will leave will be the Local Fluff! It’s about 30 light years across, but it is moving too and the Sun will exit it within 10,000 years or so.

    The Local Fluff is a puff of star stuff from the Scorpius-Centaurus star forming region about 400 ly away. There, active young heavy OB stars are throwing stuff at us through the relatively empty Local Bubble, which in turn is a part of the Local Chimney. Chimneys are holes in the interstellar medium, created by heavy stars that are active when young and quickly end with a bang, so powerful that they sweep away the interstellar medium and break out of the galactic disk, out into the much emptier galactic halo. The exiting fountain later falls back upon other parts of the galactic disk by gravity. The Local Fluff might bring some Solar wind stuff to tens of thousands of light years away.

  • Wayne

    Good deal on the LocalFluff!
    (interesting website)

    Captain Klaa destroys a probe of ancient origin
    Star Trek 5

  • Max

    Local fluff, from your link:
    “Some wisps of the Local Fluff’s denser gas may already have blown into the Solar System earlier (possibly 33,000 and 60,000 years ago) (Priscilla Chapman Frisch, 1997). Astronomers hypothsize that such gas clouds can suppress the Solar Wind so that interstellar gas and dust enters the Solar System in quantities great enough to affect the Sun and life on Earth.”

    I have always thought that this solar system has been invaded by clouds of gas in the past that caused certain changes on the earth as well as the outer planets. Changes like an explanation for Noah’s flood. Mars being covered in ice. No frozen ocean on Mars indicating that this ice was probably methane, carbon dioxide and other light gases. (The rapidly retreating ice cap on the South Pole is all that remains). The large atmospheres of the outer planets, and their moons being covered in ice like Europa. (too far from the sun to have a surface temperature high enough to melt) ice core samples there will give us A wonderful picture of the composition and influence of interstellar gas on our local neighborhood.

    I knew there must be a lot of random gas clouds nearby because we cannot even see the center of our own galaxy. Either that gas cloud is close, or it’s massive in size. One of the most important influences, I think, is increasing the mass of a planet without decreasing it’s velocity. What must change its orbit around the sun… (Maybe pre-flood orbital time was 360 days)
    The changes to earth include a thinner atmosphere then what existed at the time of the dinosaurs. (Dinosaurs not only had small brains, they had small lung capacity which indicates, for their size, that the oxygen was more abundant/or compressed denser)(Winged reptiles also had a large body mass to wing span. the air was probably thicker to keep them aloft)
    In short, interstellar gases burn/oxidize in earths atmosphere, instead of collecting like other planets. This explains where our water comes from, and a large amount of the nitrogen. (The amount of nitrogen far exceeds the estimated amount of Earths decayed uranium that it takes to produce it)
    I mentioned Noah’s flood. It is likely that a gas cloud from the sun, or interstellar, hit the earth and condensed it’s atmosphere. hydrogen and oxygen turning into water causing lower air pressure. The cooling affect most likely covered the world with water. (think Ice Age) this also gives a plausible explanation for the woolly mammoth/mastodons having butter cups in their mouth as they’re being frozen under hundred feet of ice.

  • Steve Earle

    Wayne, great clip. I always liked how they snuck in a little scream as the “Space Probe of Ancient Origin” was hit by the first disruptor fire…. :-)

    The two Pioneers, the two Voyagers, and now the New Horizons probe are all accidental explorers outside the Solar System in that they all long outlived their primary missions and are now onto extended observations in an area they were not really designed to operate.

    If we can build such amazing long-lived machines by “accident” so to speak, can you imagine what we could build if we designed it from the start to leave the Sol System and send back data as long as possible?

  • Edward

    Steve Earle wrote: “If we can build such amazing long-lived machines by “accident” so to speak, can you imagine what we could build if we designed it from the start to leave the Sol System and send back data as long as possible?

    Aah. To explore a nearby solar system. What a mission that would be.

  • PeterF

    The problem with Capt. Klaa destroying an “ancient” space probe is that the pioneer would still be in the Earth’s local vicinity even after 500 or 1000 or even 5000 years. I don’t think Capt. Klaa would have any problem finding a federation starship within what we would call our “local” vicinity.

  • Edward

    Sometimes you have to not let the facts get in the way of a good yarn.

    That’s how the global warming yarn became so popular. Science would be an example of a time when the facts should get in the way of the yarn.

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