When Voyager 1 mission team members announced, last year, that the spacecraft had reached interstellar space in Aug. 2012, they failed to convince the entire academic community. Now two researchers working with the spacecraft are looking to seal the deal with a new test designed to show, once and for all, whether or not Voyager 1 has made it into interstellar space.
The test would determine whether the spacecraft is inside or outside the heliosphere, the bubble of solar particles and magnetic fields that the sun creates around itself. The researchers who developed the test believe that Voyager 1 will cross out of its current layer of the heliosphere within the next year or two. When that occurs, the astrophysicists expect to see a reversal in the magnetic field around the spacecraft. The reversal would show that Voyager 1 is still inside the heliosphere. If it does not happen within the next two years, then scientists can confidently state that the craft has entered into interstellar space.
“This controversy will continue until it is resolved by measurements,” said George Gloeckler of the University of Michigan. Gloeckler is the lead author of a study outlining the details of the test.
There have been other indications that Voyager 1 has left the heliosphere. Having gathered data from a solar eruption that shook the particles around the probe, scientists have been able to determine that the density of the spacecraft’s surroundings was far higher than the figures taken in earlier measurements, when it was believed that Voyager 1 had yet to cross into interstellar space.
Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were launched into space in 1977. The goal of the mission was to study the planets of our solar system. Voyager 2 is still communicating with scientists on Earth, and is expected to continue to do so for quite some time. Astrophysicists believe it will enter into interstellar space in a few years.