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Voyager 2 probe could soon reach interstellar space

The position of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in relation to the Heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends far beyond Pluto's orbit. Credits: NASA

NASA’s Voyager 2 probe which has been drifting in the Solar System for more than 40 years could soon reach the edge of the heliosphere, entering into interstellar space. Only Voyager 1 has managed to do this before. 

What is the Voyager 2 probe?

Imagine a probe that has been drifting in the Solar System for 40 years at a speed of more than 15 km / s which is the equivalent to 57 000 km / h.  Whatever is happening on Earth, the kilometers just pass by this intrepid probe. Since it entered the Solar System has obviously traveled a far distance. So much so that the Voyager 2 spacecraft is approaching the heliopause, the outer limit of the heliosphere that encompasses our system about 17 billion kilometers from the Earth.  This is the equivalent to 118 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The probe, propelled into space by NASA in the late 70s, in October 2018 an increase in cosmic rays (5%) from interstellar space, a sign that the “edges” of the Solar system are close. It is impossible to say exactly when this limit will be exceeded.

Uranus planète Voyager 2
Sunrise on Uranus, photographed by Voyager 2. Credits : NASA

When will it reach interstellar space?

We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2,” said Ed Stone, a Voyager Project researcher based at Caltech in Pasadena.  “There’s no doubt about that, we’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause. We’re not there yet—that’s one thing I can say with confidence.”  One thing is for sure, unless the probe has some unfortunate luck, Voyager 2 will soon reach interstellar space joining Voyager 1.  The first Voyager probe has been drifting “between the stars” for a few years now.  About 3 months before leaving the heliopause, the probe also registered an increase in cosmic ray levels.

Achievements of the probe so far

As well as the valuable data recorded during it’s journey, Voyager 2 can also pride itself in being the only probe to fly over the planet Uranus.  In 1986 it passed over this giant planet at a distance of about 80 000 kilometers. It was able to capture views of the planet which has previously never been seen.  It was also able to define an ocean composed of water and methane located 800 km under Uranus’ clouds.  The probe has discovered dozens of natural satellites and even discovered that  Uranus is surrounded by two, very thin, rings.


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