Interstellar space, as seen by both Voyager spacecraft


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Today a suite of new science papers were published outlining what scientists learned when Voyager 2 joined Voyager 1 in interstellar space last November.

The Sun’s heliosphere is like a ship sailing through interstellar space. Both the heliosphere and interstellar space are filled with plasma, a gas that has had some of its atoms stripped of their electrons. The plasma inside the heliosphere is hot and sparse, while the plasma in interstellar space is colder and denser. The space between stars also contains cosmic rays, or particles accelerated by exploding stars. Voyager 1 discovered that the heliosphere protects Earth and the other planets from more than 70% of that radiation.

The data also shows that Voyager 2, which exited the heliosphere somewhat perpendicular to its direction of travel, is still in the transitional zone between the heliosphere and interstellar space. Voyager 1 exited out the head of the heliosphere, so its transitional zone was compressed and shorter.

The real achievement of these results however is that they were obtainable at all. For both spacecraft to be functioning so well after forty years in space, and able to get their data back to Earth from distances more than 11 billion miles, is a true testament to the grand engineering that went into their design and construction.

They built well in the mid-twentieth century.

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4 comments

  • Tom

    And the two oldest continuously operating computers ever made are .. on the Voyager Spacecraft. Uptime is over 15,400 days or 370,000 hours. Not bad for a device made in the mid-seventies.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H62hZJVqs2o

  • Gealon

    Much of that fantastic reliability comes from the slow, chunky, radiation hardened processors and the plated wire memory in both machines. An interesting tidbit of information, the navigation software for both spacecraft is stored entirely in Ram memory. This might be considered an unusual design choice considering the nature of Ram memory, however the choice was made since the Ram would be fed power from the Voyager’s RTG. If the RTG ever stopped functioning the spacecraft was dead anyway, so there really wasn’t a reason not to use Ram for software storage.

  • wayne

    Tom–
    Great video!

  • Gary M.

    Tom

    Thanks for posting that video. Excellent.

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