Science

Voyager 1 Left The Solar System After 35 Years, Scientists Dispute

By Hilda Scott , Mar 20, 2013 03:52 PM EDT
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Scientists announced that the Voyager 1 probe left the Solar System after 35 years. The first manmade object to do so, it was first launched in 1977 to study outer planets.

The Voyager has moved out of its familiar area of our solar system, according to a new study of cosmic rays and radiation released Wednesday. As the Voyager continues to drift, scientists debate the exact location of the spacecraft. NASA said that there are still some doubts about the Voyager entering an area beyond the Sun.

The Voyager monitored changes in its environment and detected an increase in the number of cosmic rays approaching it. Voyager also recorded a decline in cosmic rays coming from behind the Sun.

"It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that. We're in a new region. And everything we're measuring is different and exciting," said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

The major change Voyager recorded happened on Aug. 25 last year and Webber refers to the transition as a "heliocliff."

"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 exited the heliosphere," said Webber.

Webber said scientists are still debating whether Voyager reached "interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the solar system." Scientists said that in December, Voyager was exploring "the magnetic highway," an area at the far corners of the solar system, located just before interstellar space.

"The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

NASA said that Webber's statements do not reflect the views of everyone involved in the project. Researchers still need to examine the data, which will take some time. The findings were posted online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. 

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