Out of this world: 35 years after mission to boldly go where no spacecraft has gone before - Voyager 1 'exits' Solar System

Probe has reached the edge of interstellar space, where no manmade object has gone before

It is the furthest man-made object in space. It has travelled more than 11 billion miles since it was launched nearly 36 years ago. And now Voyager 1 has boldly gone where no spacecraft has gone before – it has left the outer reaches of the Solar System.

It is the furthest man-made object in space. It has travelled more than 11 billion miles since it was launched nearly 36 years ago. And now Voyager 1 has boldly gone where no spacecraft has gone before – it has left the outer reaches of the Solar System.

After several years of debate over whether the Voyager 1 probe, launched in September 1977, has crossed the cosmic-equivalent of the doldrums separating the Solar System from interstellar space, scientists believe the spacecraft has finally travelled beyond the influence of the Sun.

Voyager 1, the second of a pair of twin space probes, was launched in the same year that Elvis died, Donna Summer reached number 1 with “I Feel Love” and the Sex Pistols began to shock the suburbs.

It was originally designed to explore nearby planets but after a string of important discoveries, including the observations of active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and the rings of Saturn, the Voyager 1 mission was extended. Meanwhile, Voyager 2 went on to the more distant planets of Uranus and Neptune.

Scientists believe that Voyager 1, which was launched after Voyager 2 but has now overtaken it in terms of its distance from the Earth, has left a region of space known as the heliosphere, which is dominated by the stream of energetic particles emanating from the Sun called the solar wind.

Measurements taken on 25 August last year, but published online now in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal that Voyager 1 underwent dramatic changes in its exposure to radiation levels. Scientists said that their measurements changed “suddenly and decisively”.

The anomalous cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere of the Solar System all but vanished – dropping to less than 1 per cent of previous amounts – while galactic cosmic rays from deep space spiked to twice the highest intensities previously seen. Bill Webber, professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, said the data suggests that Voyager 1 has entered a new region of space that no probe has visited before – a signal that it has finally left the Solar System and is about to enter interstellar space.

“Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it had exited the heliosphere,” Professor Webber said. “It’s outside the normal heliosphere. We’re in a new region. Everything we’re measuring is different and exciting,” he said.

The latest results suggest that Voyager 1 has jumped off the “heliocliff”, Professor Webber added, and entered a region where the solar wind blows no more and can no longer protect the space probe from the intense cosmic radiation of deep space.

However, Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at Caltech in California, said that the probe is still probably within the Solar System. “It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the Solar System or reached interstellar space…. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

Voyager 1 carries a gold-plated copper disc carrying images and sounds from Earth, including greetings in 55 languages and a humpback whale song.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Chemistry Teacher - long term opportunity in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for an experienced Che...

Nursery Workers x3

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Nursery Workers x 3 Greater Manches...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits