Are The Voyagers Still Transmitting

Maria Garcia
• Friday, 18 December, 2020
• 30 min read

Twelve billion miles from Earth, there is an elusive boundary that marks the edge of the sun’s realm and the start of interstellar space. When Voyager 2, the longest-running space mission, crossed that frontier more than 40 years after its launch it sent a faint signal from the other side that scientists have now decoded.

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Photograph: NASA/AFP via Getty Images hemisphere can be thought of as a cosmic weather front: a distinct boundary where charged particles rushing outwards from the sun at supersonic speed meet a cooler, interstellar wind blowing in from supernovae that exploded millions of years ago. It was once thought that the solar wind faded away gradually with distance, but Voyager 1 confirmed there was a boundary, defined by a sudden drop in temperature and an increase in the density of charged particles, known as plasma.

“It implies that the hemisphere is symmetric, at least at the two points where the Voyager spacecraft crossed,” said Bill Kurt, a University of Iowa research scientist and a co-author on one of the studies. The data also feeds into a debate about the overall shape of the hemisphere, which some models predict ought to be spherical and others more like a wind sock, with a long tail floating out behind as the solar system moves through the galaxy at high speed.

The shape depends, in a complex way, on the relative strengths of the magnetic fields inside and outside the hemisphere, and the latest measurements are suggestive of a more spherical form. NASA launched the Voyager 2 42 years ago on August 20, 1977, to study the solar system’s most distant planets.

When it left, it had spent some 41 years in space, transmitting data back to NASA of the solar system’s outer reaches. Now the probe has ventured into interstellar space it continues to transmit back to its NASA handlers.

New reports published in Nature Astronomy have revealed Voyager 2 discovered “unexpected” differences in the density of plasma, a gas made of ions and free electrons. Voyager 2 was launched in 1977 (Image: GETTY)Don Burnett, one study author with the University of Iowa, said the plasma differences show a clear boundary between the hemisphere and interstellar space.

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When the first probe made the trip to interstellar space scientists believe it broke through the hemisphere at a less perpendicular trajectory. Bill Kurt, one study co-author and a University of Iowa research scientist, suggested this means the hemisphere is symmetrical.

Since its 1977 launch, the Voyager 1 probe has passed gas-giant planets, beamed back the famous Pale Blue Dot picture of Earth from afar, and is now passing through the limits of the solar wind's reach. Its sister craft, Voyager 2, took the first pictures of the outer gas giants, Uranus and Neptune.

“We thought we might not be able to go beyond where we are right now,” says Jim Holder, the operations manager in charge of the arrays of antennae responsible for Voyager communications. Technological advances since the 1977 launch have made our antenna arrays incredibly powerful, Holder says.

The real reason scientists can't communicate with Voyager indefinitely is that the pioneering probes' fuel supply is not infinite. Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says the Voyager spacecraft are powered by a couple of nuclear reactors sitting on the back of the probe, but they will soon run out of steam.

Dodd and the rest of the team have extended Voyager's life using the few improvised tactics they have available to them. Dodd thinks that in 2016, the team will probably have to turn off the gyros responsible for maneuvering the probe, and its movements will be left to the whims of deep space.

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This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. But they’re running out of energy, and if NASA wants them to continue on much longer, they have some decisions to make.

Not only do their scientific instruments require energy, but the spacecraft need to keep themselves warm in the frigid environment of space. Each Voyager launched generating 470 watts at 30 volts DC, but over time that degrades.

While that 270 watts is better than predicted when the probes were designed and launched, it still means that inevitable decisions need to be made about which spacecraft systems need to be turned off. First off, you got a give NASA credit for keeping the probes going this long.

In response to energy concerns, in 2011 NASA turned off the heater for Voyager 1’s ultraviolet spectrometer. Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd But that was in 2011, and since then the RTGS have lost even more power.

Now, NASA engineers are sharpening their slide rules and putting a new energy management plan in place to keep the probes going even longer. Recently, NASA decided to turn off the heater for another instrument, this time on Voyager 2.

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They’ve turned off the heat for Voyager 2’s Cosmic Ray Subsystem (CRS). That’s too bad, because back in November 2018, the CRS instrument was key in determining that Voyager 2 had left the hemisphere and entered interstellar space.

We will continue to explore every option we have in order to keep the Voyagers doing the best science possible.” As it stands now, Voyager 2 is still returning data from five instruments, even though the CRS had its heat turned off.

As the power in the probes runs down, eventually more heaters will have to be turned off to allow the remaining instruments to operate. But the shrinking energy budget on the probes also affects other systems besides scientific instruments.

Hubble is gazing at two sight lines (the twin cone-shaped features) along each spacecraft’s path. The telescope’s goal is to help astronomers map interstellar structure along each spacecraft’s star-bound route.

If the lines feeding the fuel to the thrusters froze, then engineers would be unable to aim the spacecrafts’ antennae or instruments. Some thrusters on Voyager 1 were having to work harder to maintain the correct orientation toward Earth.

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The set of four backup thrusters are located on the back side of the spacecraft in this orientation. They were last used when Voyager 1 encountered Neptune in 1989 30 years ago, and NASA plans to turn them on later this month.

With clever engineering, careful planning, and judicious use of both Voyagers remaining energy, the inevitable end for the spacecraft is being delayed. Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone Engineers and mission planners think that there’s still a few years of operational capability left.

That can’t be understated, because new papers are still being written based on Voyager data, not only from where they are now, but from where they were years, even decades, ago. We’ve just published three papers on Voyager data that was taken 33 years ago, at the same time that we’re all celebrating the 40th anniversary of the launch.

It begs the question, how many future papers based on current data might be written decades from now? The good news is that future spacecraft will build on the work done by the Voyager program.

Image Credit: NASA NASA is launching the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) in 2024, and it will capitalize on the Voyagers observations. Their Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is already building on the work of Voyager 1 and 2 and giving us more detailed info on the hemisphere.

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Spacecraft propertiesSpacecraft type Mariner Jupiter-SaturnManufacturerJet Propulsion LaboratoryLaunch mass825.5 kg (1,820 lb)Power470 watts (at launch)Start of missionLaunch date September 5, 1977, 12:56:00 (1977-09-05UTC12:56Z) Cricket Titan ISIE Launch site Cape CanaveralLaunch Complex 41 Flyby of Jupiter Closest approach March 5, 1979Distance349,000 km (217,000 mi)Flyby of Saturn Closest approach November 12, 1980Distance124,000 km (77,000 mi)Flyby of Titan (atmosphere study)Closest approach November 12, 1980Distance6,490 km (4,030 mi) Voyager 1 is a space probe that was launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Having operated for 43 years, 4 months and 21 days (50 SO) as of January 26, 2021, UTC , the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and to transmit data to Earth.

Real-time distance and velocity data is provided by NASA and GPL. At a distance of 152.2 AU (22.8 billion km ; 14.1 billion mi) from Earth as of January 12, 2021, it is the most distant human-made object from Earth .

The probe's objectives included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Although the spacecraft's course could have been altered to include a Pluto encounter by forgoing the Titan flyby, exploration of the moon took priority because it was known to have a substantial atmosphere.

Voyager 1 studied the weather, magnetic fields, and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons. As part of the Voyager program, like its sister craft Voyager 2, the spacecraft is in an extended mission to locate and study the regions and boundaries of the outer hemisphere, and to begin exploring the interstellar medium.

Voyager 1 crossed the menopause and entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012, making it the first spacecraft to do so. Two years later, Voyager 1 began experiencing a third “tsunami wave” of coronal mass ejections from the Sun, that has continued to at least December 15, 2014, further confirming that the probe is indeed in interstellar space.

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In a further testament to the robustness of Voyager 1, the Voyager team tested the spacecraft's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters in late 2017 (the first time these thrusters had been fired since 1980), a project enabling the mission to be extended by two to three years. Voyager 1's extended mission is expected to continue until about 2025 when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate its scientific instruments.

In the 1960s, a Grand Tour to study the outer planets was proposed which prompted NASA to begin work on a mission in the early 1970s. Information gathered by the Pioneer 10 spacecraft helped Voyager's engineers design Voyager to cope more effectively with the intense radiation environment around Jupiter.

However, shortly before launch, strips of kitchen-grade aluminum foil were applied to certain cabling to further enhance radiation shielding. Due to budget cuts, the mission was scaled back to be a flyby of Jupiter and Saturn and renamed the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn probes.

As the program progressed, the name was later changed to Voyager, since the probe designs began to differ greatly from previous Mariner missions. The communication system includes a 3.7-meter (12 ft) diameter high gain Cross-grain antenna to send and receive radio waves via the three Deep Space Network stations on the Earth.

The craft normally transmits data to Earth over Deep Space Network Channel 18, using a frequency of either 2.3 GHz or 8.4 GHz, while signals from Earth to Voyager are transmitted at 2.1 GHz. When Voyager 1 is unable to communicate directly with the Earth, its digital tape recorder (DR) can record about 67 megabytes of data for transmission at another time.

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Signals from Voyager 1 take over 20 hours to reach Earth. Voyager 1 has three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGS) mounted on a boom.

The RTGS generated about 470 W of electric power at the time of launch, with the remainder being dissipated as waste heat. The power output of the RTGS declines over time due to the 87.7-year half-life of the fuel and degradation of the thermocouples, but the craft's RTGS will continue to support some of its operations until 2025.

Diagram of RTG fuel container, showing the plutonium-238 oxide spheres Computers Unlike the other onboard instruments, the operation of the cameras for visible light is not autonomous, but rather it is controlled by an imaging parameter table contained in one of the on-board digital computers, the Flight Data Subsystem (FDS).

Since the 1990s, most space probes have been equipped with completely autonomous cameras. The computer command subsystem (CCS) controls the cameras.

This computer is an improved version of the one that was used in the 1970s Viking orbiters. Description Imaging Science System (disabled)(ISS) Utilized a two-camera system (narrow-angle/wide-angle) to provide images of Jupiter, Saturn and other objects along the trajectory.

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Radio Science System (disabled)(RSS) Utilized the telecommunications' system of the Voyager spacecraft to determine the physical properties of planets and satellites (ionospheres, atmospheres, masses, gravity fields, densities) and the amount and size distribution of material in Saturn's rings and the ring dimensions. Infrared InterferometerSpectrometer (disabled)(IRIS) Investigates both global and local energy balance and atmospheric composition.

Vertical temperature profiles are also obtained from the planets and satellites as well as the composition, thermal properties, and size of particles in Saturn's rings. Ultraviolet Spectrometer (disabled)(US) Designed to measure atmospheric properties, and to measure radiation.

More Principal investigator: A. Broad foot / University of Southern California (PDS/PRN website) Data: PDS/PRN data catalog Trivial Fluxgate Magnetometer (active)(MAG) Designed to investigate the magnetic fields of Jupiter and Saturn, the interaction of the solar wind with the magnetosphere of these planets, and the magnetic field of interplanetary space out to the boundary between the solar wind and the magnetic field of interstellar space.

PlasmaSpectrometer (defective)(PLS) Investigates the microscopic properties of the plasma ions and measures electrons in the energy range from 5 eV to 1 key. Low Energy Charged Particle Instrument (active)(LEAP) Measures the differential in energy fluxes and angular distributions of ions, electrons and the differential in energy ion composition.

More Principal investigator: Station Kimchis / JHU / APL / University of Maryland (JHU/APL website / UMD website / KU website) Data: UMD data plotting, PDS/PPI data catalog, NS SDC data archive Cosmic Ray System (active)(CRS) Determines the origin and acceleration process, life history, and dynamic contribution of interstellar cosmic rays, the nucleosynthesis of elements in cosmic-ray sources, the behavior of cosmic rays in the interplanetary medium, and the trapped planetary energetic-particle environment.

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More Principal investigator: Edward Stone / Caltech / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (website) Data: PDS/PPI data catalog, NS SDC data archive Planetary Radio Astronomy Investigation (disabled)(PRA) Utilizes a sweep-frequency radio receiver to study the radio-emission signals from Jupiter and Saturn.

Photopolarimeter System (defective)(PPS) Utilized a telescope with a polarizer to gather information on surface texture and composition of Jupiter and Saturn and information on atmospheric scattering properties and density for both planets. Plasma Wave Subsystem (active)(PCs) Provides continuous, sheath-independent measurements of the electron-density profiles at Jupiter and Saturn as well as basic information on local wave–particle interaction, useful in studying the magnetosphere.

More Principal investigator: Donald Burnett / University of Iowa (website) Data: PDS/PPI data catalog For more details on the Voyager space probes' identical instrument packages, see the separate article on the overall Voyager Program.

Voyager 1's trajectory seen from Earth, diverging from the ecliptic in 1981 at Saturn and now heading into the constellation Ophiuchus Date Event 1977-09-05 Spacecraft launched at 12:56:00 UTC. (see diagram) 1978-09-08 Exited asteroid belt.

0012:05:26 Jupiter closest approach at 348,890 km from the center of mass. 1979-04-13Phase end 1980-08-22 Start Saturn observation phase.

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0023:46:30 Saturn closest approach at 184,300 km from the center of mass. Extended mission 1990-02-14 Final images of the Voyager program acquired by Voyager 1 to create the Solar System Family Portrait.

1998-02-17 Voyager 1 overtakes Pioneer 10 as the most distant spacecraft from the Sun, at 69.419 AU. Voyager 1 is moving away from the Sun at over 1 AU per year faster than Pioneer 10.

2004-12-17 Passed the termination shock at 94 AU and entered the heliosheath. 2008-01-16 Terminated planetary radio astronomy experiment operations.

2012-08-25 Crossed the menopause at 121 AU and entered interstellar space. 2017-11-28 “Trajectory correction maneuver” (TCM) thrusters are tested in their first use since November 1980.

Animation of Voyager 1's trajectory from September 1977 to December 31, 1981, Voyager 1 · Earth · Jupiter · Saturn · Sun Animation of Voyager 1's trajectory around Jupiter Voyager 1 · Jupiter · Io · Europa · Ganymede · Callisto trajectory of Voyager 1 through the Jupiter systemize Voyager 1 probe was launched on September 5, 1977, from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, aboard a Titan Relaunch vehicle. The Voyager 2 probe had been launched two weeks earlier, on August 20, 1977.

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Despite being launched later, Voyager 1 reached both Jupiter and Saturn sooner, following a shorter trajectory. Voyager 1 began photographing Jupiter in January 1979.

Its closest approach to Jupiter was on March 5, 1979, at a distance of about 349,000 kilometers (217,000 miles) from the planet's center. Because of the greater photographic resolution allowed by a closer approach, most observations of the moons, rings, magnetic fields, and the radiation belt environment of the Jovian system were made during the 48-hour period that bracketed the closest approach.

Voyager 1 finished photographing the Jovian system in April 1979. Discovery of ongoing volcanic activity on the moon Io was probably the greatest surprise.

It was the first time active volcanoes had been seen on another body in the Solar System. It appears that activity on Io affects the entire Jovian system.

Europa's lineage but cratered face, evidence of currently active geology, at a distance of 2.8 million km. Ganymede's tectonically disrupted surface, marked with bright impact sites, from 253,000 km.

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Media related to the Voyager 1 Jupiter encounter at Wikimedia Commons The gravitational assist trajectories at Jupiter were successfully carried out by both Voyagers, and the two spacecraft went on to visit Saturn and its system of moons and rings.

Voyager 1 encountered Saturn in November 1980, with the closest approach on November 12, 1980, when the space probe came within 124,000 kilometers (77,000 mi) of Saturn's cloud-tops. The space probe's cameras detected complex structures in the rings of Saturn, and its remote sensing instruments studied the atmospheres of Saturn and its giant moon Titan.

Voyager 1 found that about seven percent of the volume of Saturn's upper atmosphere is helium (compared with 11 percent of Jupiter's atmosphere), while almost all the rest is hydrogen. Since Saturn's internal helium abundance was expected to be the same as Jupiter's and the Sun's, the lower abundance of helium in the upper atmosphere may imply that the heavier helium may be slowly sinking through Saturn's hydrogen; that might explain the excess heat that Saturn radiates over energy it receives from the Sun.

The Voyagers found aurora -like ultraviolet emissions of hydrogen at mid-latitudes in the atmosphere, and auroras at polar latitudes (above 65 degrees). The high-level Aurora activity may lead to the formation of complex hydrocarbon molecules that are carried toward the equator.

The mid-latitude auroras, which occur only in sunlit regions, remain a puzzle, since bombardment by electrons and ions, known to cause auroras on Earth, occurs primarily at high latitudes. Both Voyagers measured the rotation of Saturn (the length of a day) at 10 hours, 39 minutes, 24 seconds.

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Voyager 1's mission included a flyby of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which had long been known to have an atmosphere. Images taken by Pioneer 11 in 1979 had indicated the atmosphere was substantial and complex, further increasing interest.

The Titan flyby occurred as the spacecraft entered the system to avoid any possibility of damage closer to Saturn compromising observations, and approached to within 6,400 km (4,000 mi), passing behind Titan as seen from Earth and the Sun. Voyager's measurement of the atmosphere's effect on sunlight and Earth-based measurement of its effect on the probe's radio signal were used to determine the atmosphere's composition, density, and pressure.

Titan's mass was also measured by observing its effect on the probe's trajectory. The thick haze prevented any visual observation of the surface, but the measurement of the atmosphere's composition, temperature, and pressure led to speculation that lakes of liquid hydrocarbons could exist on the surface.

Because observations of Titan were considered vital, the trajectory chosen for Voyager 1 was designed around the optimum Titan flyby, which took it below the South Pole of Saturn and out of the plane of the ecliptic, ending its planetary science mission. Had Voyager 1 failed or been unable to observe Titan, Voyager 2's trajectory would have been altered to incorporate the Titan flyby, :94 precluding any visit to Uranus and Neptune.

Position of Voyager 1 above the plane of the ecliptic on February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 and 2 speed and distance from Subtle Pale Blue Dot image showing Earth from 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) appearing as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the light band to the right) within the darkness of deep space. On February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 took the first family portrait of the Solar System as seen from outside, which includes the image of planet Earth known as Pale Blue Dot. Soon afterwards its cameras were deactivated to conserve energy and computer resources for other equipment.

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The camera software has been removed from the spacecraft, so it would now be complex to get them working again. Earth-side software and computers for reading the images are also no longer available.

On February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 reached a distance of 69 AU from the Sun and overtook Pioneer 10 as the most distant spacecraft from Earth. Travelling at about 17 kilometers per second (11 mi/s) it has the fastest heliocentric recession speed of any spacecraft.

As Voyager 1 headed for interstellar space, its instruments continued to study the Solar System. Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists used the plasma wave experiments aboard Voyager 1 and 2 to look for the menopause, the boundary at which the solar wind transitions into the interstellar medium.

As of 2013 , the probe was moving with a relative velocity to the Sun of about 61,197 kilometers per hour (38,026 mph). With the velocity the probe is currently maintaining, Voyager 1 is traveling about 523 million kilometers (325×10 ^ 6 mi) per year, or about one light-year per 18,000 years.

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins UniversityApplied Physics Laboratory believe that Voyager 1 entered the termination shock in February 2003. This marks the point where the solar wind slows to subsonic speeds.

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Some other scientists expressed doubt, discussed in the journal Nature of November 6, 2003. The issue would not be resolved until other data became available, since Voyager 1's solar-wind detector ceased functioning in 1990.

This failure meant that termination shock detection would have to be inferred from the data from the other instruments on board. In May 2005, a NASA press release said that the consensus was that Voyager 1 was then in the heliosheath.

In a scientific session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans on May 25, 2005, Dr. Ed Stone presented evidence that the craft crossed the termination shock in late 2004. This event is estimated to have occurred on December 15, 2004, at a distance of 94 AU from the Sun.

On March 31, 2006, amateur radio operators from AMST in Germany tracked and received radio waves from Voyager 1 using the 20-meter (66 ft) dish at Bochum with a long integration technique. Retrieved data was checked and verified against data from the Deep Space Network station at Madrid, Spain.

It was confirmed on December 13, 2010, that Voyager 1 had passed the reach of the radial outward flow of the solar wind, as measured by the Low Energy Charged Particle device. It is suspected that solar wind at this distance turns sideways because of interstellar wind pushing against the hemisphere.

Since June 2010, detection of solar wind had been consistently at zero, providing conclusive evidence of the event. Voyager 1 was commanded to change its orientation to measure the sideways motion of the solar wind at that location in space in March 2011 (~33yr 6mo from launch).

A test roll done in February had confirmed the spacecraft's ability to maneuver and reorient itself. It rotated 70 degrees counterclockwise with respect to Earth to detect the solar wind.

This was the first time the spacecraft had done any major maneuvering since the Family Portrait photograph of the planets was taken in 1990. After the first roll the spacecraft had no problem in reorienting itself with Alpha Centauri, Voyager 1's guide star, and it resumed sending transmissions back to Earth.

Voyager 1 was expected to enter interstellar space “at any time”. Voyager 2 was still detecting outward flow of solar wind at that point, but it was estimated that in the following months or years it would experience the same conditions as Voyager 1.

The spacecraft was reported at 12.44° declination and 17.163 hours right ascension, and at an ecliptic latitude of 34.9° (the ecliptic latitude changes very slowly), placing it in the constellation Ophiuchus as observed from the Earth on May 21, 2011. On December 1, 2011, it was announced that Voyager 1 had detected the first Lyman-alpha radiation originating from the Milky Way galaxy.

NASA announced on December 5, 2011, that Voyager 1 had entered a new region referred to as a “cosmic purgatory”. Within this stagnation region, charged particles streaming from the Sun slow and turn inward, and the Solar System's magnetic field is doubled in strength as interstellar space appears to be applying pressure.

Energetic particles originating in the Solar System decline by nearly half, while the detection of high-energy electrons from outside increases 100-fold. The inner edge of the stagnation region is located approximately 113 AU from the Sun.

NASA announced in June 2012 that the probe was detecting changes in the environment that were suspected to correlate with arrival at the menopause. Voyager 1 had reported a marked increase in its detection of charged particles from interstellar space, which are normally deflected by the solar winds within the hemisphere from the Sun.

The craft thus began to enter the interstellar medium at the edge of the Solar System. Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to cross the menopause in August 2012, then at a distance of 121 AU from the Sun, although this was not confirmed for another year.

As of September 2012, sunlight took 16.89 hours to get to Voyager 1 which was at a distance of 121 AU. The apparent magnitude of the Sun from the spacecraft was -16.3 (30 times less than the brightness of the full Moon).

To compare, Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, is about 4.2 light-years (2.65×10 5 AU) distant. Were the spacecraft traveling in the direction of that star, 73,775 years would pass before Voyager 1 reaches it.

(Voyager 1 is heading in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus.) In late 2012, researchers reported that particle data from the spacecraft suggested that the probe had passed through the menopause.

Measurements from the spacecraft revealed a steady rise since May in collisions with high energy particles (above 70 MeV), which are thought to be cosmic rays emanating from supernova explosions far beyond the Solar System, with a sharp increase in these collisions in late August. At the same time, in late August, there was a dramatic drop in collisions with low-energy particles, which are thought to originate from the Sun.

Ed Roof, space scientist at Johns Hopkins University and principal investigator for the Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument on the spacecraft declared that “Most scientists involved with Voyager 1 would agree that have been sufficiently satisfied.” However, the last criterion for officially declaring that Voyager 1 had crossed the boundary, the expected change in magnetic field direction (from that of the Sun to that of the interstellar field beyond), had not been observed (the field had changed direction by only 2 degrees ), which suggested to some that the nature of the edge of the hemisphere had been misjudged.

On December 3, 2012, Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology said, “Voyager has discovered a new region of the hemisphere that we had not realized was there. The magnetic field in this region was 10 times more intense than Voyager 1 encountered before the termination shock.

It was expected to be the last barrier before the spacecraft exited the Solar System completely and entered interstellar space. In March 2013, it was announced that Voyager 1 might have become the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space, having detected a marked change in the plasma environment on August 25, 2012.

However, until September 12, 2013, it was still an open question whether the new region was interstellar space or an unknown region of the Solar System. In 2013 Voyager 1 was exiting the Solar System at a speed of about 3.6 AU per year, while Voyager 2 is going slower, leaving the Solar System at 3.3 AU per year.

Plot showing a dramatic decrease in the rate of solar wind particle detection by Voyager 1 (October 2011 through October 2012) Voyager 1 and the other probes that are in or on their way to interstellar space, except New Horizons.

Voyager 1 transmitted audio signals generated by plasma waves from interstellar space September 12, 2013, NASA officially confirmed that Voyager 1 had reached the interstellar medium in August 2012 as previously observed, with a generally accepted date of August 25, 2012 (approximately 10 days before the 35th anniversary of its launch), the date durable changes in the density of energetic particles were first detected. By this point most space scientists had abandoned the hypothesis that a change in magnetic field direction must accompany crossing of the menopause; a new model of the menopause predicted that no such change would be found.

A key finding that persuaded many scientists that the menopause had been crossed was an indirect measurement of an 80-fold increase in electron density, based on the frequency of plasma oscillations observed beginning on April 9, 2013, triggered by a solar outburst that had occurred in March 2012 (electron density is expected to be two orders of magnitude higher outside the menopause than within). Weaker sets of oscillations measured in October and November 2012 provided additional data.

An indirect measurement was required because Voyager 1's plasma spectrometer had stopped working in 1980. In September 2013, NASA released recordings of audio transduction of these plasma waves, the first to be measured in interstellar space.

The Solar System is usually defined as the vastly larger region of space populated by bodies that orbit the Sun. The craft is presently less than one-seventh the distance to the aphelion of Sedna, and it has not yet entered the Oort cloud, the source region of long-period comets, regarded by astronomers as the outermost zone of the Solar System.

Interstellar velocity (vs{\display style v_{ ifty}}) ProbeVelocity (vs{\display style v_{ ifty}}) Pioneer 10 11.8 km/s (2.49 Au/yr) Pioneer 11 11.1 km/s (2.34 Au/yr) Voyager 1 16.9 km/s (3.57 Au/yr) Voyager 2 15.2 km/s (3.21 Au/yr) New Horizons 12.6 km/s (2.66 Au/yr) Image of Voyager 1's radio signal on February 21, 2013 Voyager 1 is expected to reach the theorized Oort cloud in about 300 years and take about 30,000 years to pass through it. That star is generally moving towards the Solar System at about 119 km/s (430,000 km/h; 270,000 mph).

Provided Voyager 1 does not collide with anything and is not retrieved, the New Horizons space probe will never pass it, despite being launched from Earth at a higher speed than either Voyager spacecraft. The Voyager spacecraft benefited from multiple planetary flybys to increase their heliocentric velocities, whereas New Horizons received only a single such boost, from its Jupiter flyby.

As of 2018, New Horizons is traveling at about 14 km/s, 3 km/s slower than Voyager 1, and is still slowing down. In December 2017 it was announced that NASA had successfully fired up all four of Voyager 1's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters for the first time since 1980.

The TCM thrusters will be used in the place of a degraded set of jets which were used to help keep the probe's antenna pointed towards the Earth. Use of the TCM thrusters will allow Voyager 1 to continue to transmit data to NASA for two to three more years.

Due to the diminishing electrical power available, the Voyager team has had to prioritize which instruments to keep on and which to turn off. Heaters and other spacecraft systems have been turned off one by one as part of power management.

The fields and particles instruments that are the most likely to send back key data about the hemisphere and interstellar space have been prioritized to keep operating. Engineers expect the spacecraft to continue operating at least one science instrument until around 2025.

YearEnd of specific capabilities as a result of the available electrical power limitations 2007Termination of plasma subsystem (PLS) 2008Power off Planetary Radio Astronomy Experiment (PRA) 2016Termination of scan platform and Ultraviolet Spectrometer (US) observations 2018 approx. Termination of Data Tape Recorder (DR) operations (limited by ability to capture 1.4 bit/s data using a 70 m/34 m antenna array; this is the minimum rate at which the DR can read out data). )2021Start shutdown of science instruments (as of October 18, 2010 the order is undecided, however the Low-Energy Charged Particles, Cosmic Ray Subsystem, Magnetometer, and Plasma Wave Subsystem instruments are expected to still be operating)2025–2030Will no longer be able to power even a single instrument.

Simulated view of Voyager 1 relative to the Solar System on August 2, 2018. Simulated view of the Voyager probes relative to the Solar System and menopause on August 2, 2018.

Each Voyager space probe carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc, should the spacecraft ever be found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems. The disc carries photos of the Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, spoken greetings from people such as the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the United States and a medley, “Sounds of Earth,” that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore, and a collection of music including works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry and Val ya Balkan ska.

Other Eastern and Western classics are included, as well as various performances of indigenous music from around the world. ^ “New Horizons conducts flyby of Pluto in historic Kuiper Belt encounter”.

“In a Breathtaking First, NASA Craft Exits the Solar System”. “Voyager 1 Just Fired Up its Backup Thrusters for the 1st Time in 37 Years”.

From engineering science to big science: The NACA and NASA Collier Trophy research project winners. “Voyager 1 becomes first human-made object to leave solar system”.

^ “NASA Spacecraft Embarks on Historic Journey into Interstellar Space”. NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft officially is the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space.

As it did for the Viking program team in 1976, Mars continues to hold a special fascination. Thanks to the dedication of men and women working at NASA centers across the country, the mysterious Mars of our past is becoming a much more familiar place.

“Voyager 1 leaving solar system matches feats of great human explorers”. Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life.

^ Kimchis, S. M.; Decker, R. B.; Hill, M. E.; Armstrong, T. P.; Locker, G.; Hamilton, D. C.; Vanzetti, L. J.; Roof, E. C. (2003). “Voyager 1 exited the solar wind at a distance of ~85 Au from the Sun”.

^ McDonald, Frank B.; Stone, Edward C.; Cummings, Alan C.; Hakka, Bryant; Law, NAND; Webber, William R. (2003). “Enhancements of energetic particles near the hemispheric termination shock”.

“Search for the heliosheath with Voyager 1 magnetic field measurements” (PDF). ^ “Voyager Enters Solar System's Final Frontier”.

^ “Voyager 1 Sees Solar Wind Decline”. “Zero outward flow velocity for plasma in a heliosheath transition layer”.

^ “Voyager Probes Detect “invisible” Milky Way Glow”. ^ “NASA Voyager 1 Spacecraft Nears Interstellar Space”.

“Data From NASA's Voyager 1 Point to Interstellar Future”. “NASA Spacecraft Embarks on Historic Journey into Interstellar Space”.

“Despite Tantalizing Hints, Voyager 1 Has Not Crossed into the Interstellar Medium”. “Voyager 1 probe leaving Solar System reaches 'magnetic highway' exit”.

^ “Voyager 1 has entered a new region of space, sudden changes in cosmic rays indicate”. “NASA confirms Voyager 1 has left the Solar System”.

^ “Voyage 1 Records “Sounds” of Interstellar Space”. “Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in The Density of Space Outside The Solar System”.

“Observations of a Radial Density Gradient in the Very Local Interstellar Medium by Voyager 2”. “Future stellar flybys of the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft”.

^ “Voyager 1 spacecraft thrusters fire up after decades idle”. ^ a b “Voyager: Operations Plan to the End Mission”.

Retrieved September 30, 2011. Shutdown order has not been determined Ferris, Timothy (May 2012). Wikimedia Commons has media related to Voyager 1.

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