Exploring the Solar System

The mission objective of the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) is to extend the NASA exploration of the solar system beyond the neighbourhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, and possibly beyond. This extended mission is continuing to characterize the outer solar system environment and search for the heliopause boundary, the outer limits of the Sun’s magnetic field and outward flow of the solar wind. Penetration of the heliopause boundary between the solar wind and the interstellar medium will allow measurements to be made of the interstellar fields, particles and waves unaffected by the solar wind.

At the start of the VIM, the two Voyager spacecraft had been in flight for over 12 years having been launched in August (Voyager 2) and September (Voyager 1), 1977. Voyager 1 was at a distance of approximately 40 AU (Astronomical Unit – mean distance of Earth from the Sun, 150 million kilometres) from the Sun, and Voyager 2 was at a distance of approximately 31 AU.

As of July 2003, Voyager 1 was at a distance of 13.3 Billion Kilometres (88 AU) from the sun and Voyager 2 at a distance of 10.6 Billion kilometres (70 AU).

Lonely Voyager

Where is Voyager Now?

Voyager 1 is escaping the solar system at a speed of about 3.6 AU per year, 35 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the north, in the general direction of the Solar Apex (the direction of the Sun’s motion relative to nearby stars). Voyager 2 is also escaping the solar system at a speed of about 3.3 AU per year, 48 degrees out of the ecliptic plane to the south.

Both Voyagers are headed towards the outer boundary of the solar system in search of the heliopause, the region where the Sun’s influence wanes and the beginning of interstellar space can be sensed. The heliopause has never been reached by any spacecraft; the Voyagers may be the first to pass through this region, which is thought to exist somewhere from 8 to 14 billion miles from the Sun. Sometime in the next 5 years, the two spacecraft should cross an area known as the termination shock. This is where the million-mile-per-hour solar winds slows to about 250,000 miles per hour, the first indication that the wind is nearing the heliopause. The Voyagers should cross the heliopause 10 to 20 years after reaching the termination shock. The Voyagers have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to operate at least until 2020. By that time, Voyager 1 will be 12.4 billion miles (19.9 billion KM) from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 10.5 billion miles (16.9 billion KM) away. Eventually, the Voyagers will pass other stars. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will drift within 1.6 light years (9.3 trillion miles) of AC+79 3888, a star in the constellation of Camelopardalis. In some 296,000 years, Voyager 2 will pass 4.3 light years (25 trillion miles) from Sirius, the brightest star in the sky . The Voyagers are destined perhaps to eternally wander the Milky Way.

Voyager Facts:

  • Voyager is the furthest spacecraft from Earth.
  • Voyager has left the Solar System.
  • Voyager is travelling at 38,000 miles per hour.
  • The Voyager 1 carries a golden record with song mixes, a speech from the President of the United States, a baby cry and even music from Mozart and other masters.
  • Voyager 1 Space Probe has been exploring places that no other spacecraft has ever gone before.
  • The Voyager 1 Space Probe is continuously gathering and collecting scientific data about the outer space and transmitting it back to Earth.
  • Voyager 1’s incredibly sharp cameras could read a magazine headline at an astonishing distance of over half a mile.
  • The Voyager 1 Space Probe has nearly 65,000 individual parts.
  • Voyager 1 has been travelling nearly a million miles per day (912,000 miles, give or take) since its launch decades ago.

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