back to article Voyager probe reaches edge of Solar System's 'bubble'

NASA's famous Voyager 1 space probe, sailing outwards into the interstellar void far beyond the orbit of Pluto, has entered a new and never-before-seen region of space thought to be the very edge of the "bubble" maintained around the solar system by the power of the Sun. "We shouldn't have long to wait to find out what the …

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  1. Alan Bourke

    So cool.

    Especially the 8-track recorders still going strong.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Soon we find out what interstellar space is really like'

    Nope.

    Soon we find out that Voyager 1 has been vaporised by the quarantine barrier set up by the Galactic Council in 1945 when they realised that a species capable of Nuking itself was perhaps a little too dangerous to be allowed loose in the Galaxy.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No need for the AA in space, then...

    Stories like this amaze me - my Vauxhall is 6 years old, done about 90,000 miles and been nothing but trouble since I took delivery of it. If the JPL built cars, I'd buy one.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      If the JPL built cars . . .

      you couldn't afford one.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Terminator

      There are no cobblestones, rodents, weather or cops in space!

      These probes have it easy.

    3. Northern Fop
      Pint

      Yep

      Hat's off to the boffins at NASA.

      And a beer from me. Nice one, chaps.

    4. Amonynous
      Boffin

      Done the maths for you...

      Yes, and in the long run, swapping a Vaxuall Astra for a Voyager probe it would have worked out approximately 10 times cheaper. By my maths, not allowing for inflation:

      Vaxhall Astra 1.4

      Purchase Cost (On the Road): £13,000

      Running Cost/Year: £650

      Years: 6

      Miles: 90,000

      Fuel Cost: £9,828

      Total Cost :£26,728

      Cost/Mile: £0.30

      Speed/MPH: 70

      Voyager 1

      Purchase Cost (Launched): £219,200,000

      Running Cost/Year: £4,800,000

      Years: 34

      Miles: 11,000,000,000

      Fuel Cost: Included in Purchase Cost

      Total Cost :£382,400,000

      Cost/Mile: £0.03

      Speed/MPH: 36,907

      The only problem with the Voyager option is that I doubt your bank would lend you the inital 219 million quid for the deposit.

      On the other hand, it seems unlikely that you would live for the 17,926 years it would take your Vaxhaull Astra to reach the edge of the Solar System (plus 18 years to get your driving license in the first place).

      1. Matt_payne666
        Thumb Up

        some people have far too much time on their hands....

        I sir, salute you for ustilising said time for supplying me with an awesome satistic for wasting management time by justifying a nuclear powered space probe to my boss as my new mode of transport!!

    5. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      The 8-track tape bit is brilliant - 34 years and 11bln miles and still going strong. Fantastic boffinry.

      And one WTF?? - Voyager 1 launched September 1977, Voyager 2 launched August 1977 - why did they invert the numbering / launch out of sequence?

      1. Poor Coco

        They knew the flight plans in advance; I suppose they decided that the order they would spend the majority of their operating time in was more important than the launch order. V'ger 2 was going to have a less rapid egress from the Solar System in order to visit the outer two major planets.

      2. Armando 123
        Pint

        @James Micallef

        It's largely marketing; there is a logic to it, but it's a bit tricky. One probe was launched to reach Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. The other probe was launched to reach Jupiter and Saturn and focus on Titan as it went by Saturn, and preferably to get there first.

        Titan was a tantalizing world at the time (still is). It was known to have an atmosphere of methane and be larger than Mercury and the Galilean satellites and was speculated as a place where some form of life might conceivably have formed. In fact, Titan was considered important enough that, if something happened to the probe that was to fly close by it, the second one would sacrifice the trips to Uranus and Neptune for a good look at Titan.

        Because of this and the alignment of the planets, the craft going to all four planets had to launch first to arrive at the right time on the right trajectory to reach all four. I think I read once that, to reach Uranus and Neptune, the margin for error at Saturn was very very small, the equivalent of sinking a 900 ft putt without rimming the cup. However, it would also arrive at Jupiter AFTER the Jupiter-Saturn-Titan probe, partly from the math and partly to know which trajectory to take (Uranus-Neptune or Titan). Since the later launching probe was arriving at Jupiter first, it was called 1.

        Beer, because my brain hurts

      3. staggers
        Happy

        Spotted your last name

        Wish I was in the land of your forefathers (and you?) right now. But they've had rocky weather the last couple of weeks.

        Did either V'ger carry stuff that it would be nice to have working but can't power up, does anyone know?

      4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        "And one WTF?? - Voyager 1 launched September 1977, Voyager 2 launched August 1977 - why did they invert the numbering / launch out of sequence?"

        There was an accident with a time machine, but that was all hushed up!

      5. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Boffin

        Possibility because Voyager 1 was launched on a shorter trajectory to the planets, Voyager 1 arrived at Jupiter in January 1979 whereas voyager 2 reached Jupiter in July 1979.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Silly Asses

      By Isaac Asimov.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Norfolk 'n' Goode

        Yes, I see the similarity and I may have read it. I think my comment also owes a fair bit to "The Mote in God's Eye".

    7. annodomini2

      £4,000,000,000 for a car no thanks! ;)

    8. Sordid Details
      Coat

      My expectation

      I'm hoping that it will crash into a wall and it turns out our universe is more akin to the Truman Show. The next Voyager mission will have to be sent out with a big drill attached...

    9. dssf

      Any Barry White?

      "Cain't geht enoff ov yo lov bayb", playing away in space? Hahahaha

      Maybe some John Lennon or Jesus Christ Super Star blazing away toward the edge?

  4. PaulyV

    Just a correction

    I think both of these were launched in 1977? I may be wrong.

    If I had the energy I'd look online but I cannot be bothered to do even that, let alone travel 11 billion miles...

  5. Pete 2

    And what do you find there?

    When you get to the edge of the 'bubble' is there a large sign saying "You are now leaving the Solar System. Only space probes travelling to other stars may go beyond this point. Please have your papers ready for security. You are not permitted to carry the following items ..."

    More interesting: what language is it written in?

  6. Steve Ives
    Paris Hilton

    Sending Vger into outer space?

    Those fools! They don't understand what they're messing with!

    Paris - 'cos she doean't either.

  7. Rob Telford

    Ever known?

    "Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft ever known to have visited the outer planets Uranus and Neptune"

    Is this to cover the possibility that LGMs have visited Uranus and Neptune, or that NASA, the Soviets or China sent some undercover space missions there that we haven't been told about yet?

  8. WillbeIT
    Happy

    i was born in 72

    But its the 8 track 11 billion miles away and still cranking that made me smile

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Alien

      More interesting: what language is it written in?

      Vulcan, of course.

      1. Nexox Enigma

        Oh?

        Was thinking Vogon, myself.

    2. Jonathan Richards 1

      That's the question

      Your LGM hypothesis does not adequately explain this convoluted bit of journalese.

      For, if some extraterrestrial space-probing species had sent a visitor to Uranus and/or Neptune, it's odds-on *they* would have known about it.

      NASA does not attempt this lets-give-the-aliens-the-benefit-of-the-doubt contortion. The mission website says "Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets".

      Source: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/index.html

      PS - for certain values of "visited". Try telling your mother that you swung by 50,000 miles away doing a million kph to take a few snaps, and see if she thinks that counts as "visiting".

    3. JimC

      > undercover space missions we haven't

      I suspect its not impossible that there's the occassional SF fan in NASA, and it might be they're leaving a bit of room for space craft from other intelligent life forms...

      1. Poor Coco
        Boffin

        I would speculate that the reason they don’t, is because NASA personnel know how far away the stars are. Furthermore, if they did acknowledge the possibility in any way, they would be totally unscientific as there is no evidence yet of extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.

        And it may well be there is no such thing as an interstellar spacefaring race anywhere! After all, the age of the Earth is a significant fraction of the age of the Universe, and in order for our Solar System to exist at all there must have been at least one complete generation of supergiant stars, and I think that in order to get the amount of interesting elements like uranium that we find on Earth there was probably another generation of star formation in between too. We may in fact, as improbable as it seems, be the first spacefaring life in the cosmos — we have exactly as much evidence for that as we do against it.

    4. hillsy
      Alien

      For some reason, that put me in mind

      ...of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GrantNaylor_RedDwarf.jpg

      Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Speed Limit 40,000mph

      ---------------------------------

      Leaving

      Sol System.

      --

      Entering

      Interstellar Space.

      --

      Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.

      Speed Enforced By Star Destroyers.

      Next rest stop in 1.03461597 × 10^14 miles.

      Stop for School Starships Loading and Unloading Padwans.

    6. MD Rackham

      It's a US space probe so....

      ...it will be asked to remove it's shoes before proceeding.

    7. Tim #3

      Well, Lester & co were never absolutely sure of PARIS's flight path after release from the balloon...

    8. Code Monkey
      Alien

      "Thank you for visting the solar system"

    9. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Alien

      When you get to the edge of the 'bubble' is there a large sign saying "You are now leaving the Solar System.

      Last Intergalactic restroom facilities for 25 trillion miles, next stop Sirius the "Dog Star" in about 296,000 years time

  9. Ru
    Boffin

    "what interstellar space is really like"

    Really, really dull, I suspect.

    Still, lets hear it for nuclear power in space. That's an amazing product lifespan.

  10. Anonymous Coward 101

    'Soon we find out what interstellar space is really like'

    Conclusion: 'It's cold and dark'.

  11. Tom7
    Flame

    Ahem.

    And how far is that in Linguini?

    Standards, dammit. They're there for a reason.

    1. Jimbo 6

      'Soon we find out what interstellar space is really like'

      Rather like peach-flavoured Angel Delight, if the accompanying illustration is to be believed.

      Mmmmmmmm peach-flavoured Angel Delight...

    2. Silverburn

      Also...

      "Windy" and a bit radioactive.

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Boffin

      Standard Units

      About 98,192.85 Billion Linguini

      Standards converter page, it's there for a reason

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html

      It's also travelling at approximately at 0.5158% of the maximum velocity of a sheep in a vacuum, but I couldn't be bothered to convert that to furlongs per fortnight

  12. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    It's a long way to Tipperary....

  13. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    I remember the excitement of each planetary visit

    These probes have done so much more than can ever be expressed in terms of money!

    A toast to all those involved in making all that possible!

  14. bigphil9009

    It makes me feel tremendously proud of us as a race that these voyagers are out there, so far from home and still going. They will continue to travel, and outlast us all, even though at some point in the next decade or so their RTGs will decay to the point where they generate insufficient power to allow them to keep communicating with the miniscule dot surrounded by other tiny dots that is their view of the place we all call home.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      ...and even when their power gives up the ghost and stops transmission, they'll keep on going and going and going, potentially for tens, hundreds of thousands of years... perhaps even millions considering that the chances of them bumping into anything solid are fairly close to zero

  15. Mint Sauce
    Pint

    Douglas Adams RIP

    "[...] Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space [...]"

  16. Eddie Edwards
    Pint

    Overblown much? :p

    "For the past 22 years they have been not merely space probes but star probes"

    That's like saying when I'm in my garden I'm visiting my neighbour's house. They're still WAY closer to the sun than to any other star.

    Also, her 39-year mission? When launched in 1977? Someone needs a new calculator.

    Still, it's amazing that the probe is still functioning after 34 years, and the timeline (Voyager was launched when I was 5, and I just celebrated my 40th birthday) really gives you a sense of how big space is, when it's not even out of the vicinity of the sun after all this time!

    1. Silverburn

      Yeah, but...

      ...it did take a few detours and tourist snaps onroute.

      Methinks a dedicated, modern day extra-solar system probe launched today could probably pass it in a few decades.

      1. TimeMaster T
        Pint

        interesting factoid

        New Horizons, the mission to Pluto, had the highest Earth departure velocity but it will never overtake Voyager 1.

        Voyager 1 was accelerated by gravity slingshots around the outer planets during it's visits and currently has the highest cruising speed of any probe so far.

        Voyager, Pioneer and New Horizons. A million years from now they will likely still be out there, silent and alone in the darkness between the stars. Testaments to the existence of a species long since gone (extinct or ascended, take your pick), and perhaps forgotten.

        God speed and a safe journey.

  17. Andy Watt
    Thumb Up

    Was all this in their original mission?

    And would any probe these days get the kind of buy-in (and funding) to develop something which could radio home from that distance?

    I continue to be enthralled by the idea of a man-made device which can still manage to signal to us from that distance. It's astonishing. I've actually spent hours geeking out on the comms logs, imagining how long it took for each bit to reach us from out there. It's a feeling we need to get into our kids, the wonder of it - to keep them engaged with learning itself.

    Also - Lewis, spotted another blunt reference to how great Nuclear power is there. Tut.

  18. IglooDude

    Wonder if they sprang for the extended warranty?

  19. multipharious

    Good timing

    Supposedly two years to the edge of the heliosphere. My question is if it is shrinking maybe they will be able to get measurements before and after, possibly even pulling data from the distortion to the signals sent back after they pass the boundry. Interesting timing though...

  20. Imsimil Berati-Lahn
    Pint

    The longest road trip in human history

    Of course, the probes have two 8-tracks on board.

    One to record data when not downlinking it, the other one for playing "More than a feeling" at high volume whilst solar wind buffets hair / sunglasses.

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge
      Pint

      from we old farts who actually owned Boston's first on 8-track. Wore out two copies myself.

  21. Grant 5

    @ Eddie Edwards

    Is it 39 years for the whole Voyager mission from design to present? NASA tend to do that.

  22. EddieD
    Mushroom

    Time for a rant...

    Won't be much of one, I promise...

    What tech from 34 years ago still has the power to make us go "Wow!" like the stories of the Voyager probes do? How awesome does it seem that the probes that were constructed on a (relative) shoestring, boosted millions of miles across space /continue/ to massively outlive the projected lifespans and send more data than we could have ever possibly imagined?

    Yet the stupid twunts in power cut the budgets.

    At a time when we are seriously starved of feelgood stories, when the world spends more on killing each other in a week than they do on space in a year (15B$ on nasa, 1+T$ on military), when we need something to prove that cutting edge research not only gives results, but gives results that make folk sit up and look at the universe.

    Sometimes I wonder if it's worth digging our way out of a hole.

    Feel better for that. Cheers.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Well, EddieD, since you ask ...

      According to my electric diary, things that still make people go "Wow!" from 1977 include:

      Apple was incorporated in early 1977, Apple II released a couple months later.

      The self titled "The Clash" album was released.

      Optic fiber first used "in the wild" for telephony.

      Insulin first grown in the lab.

      Software Development Labs incorporated (now known as "Oracle Corp.").

      First oil through the entire length of the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

      Tandy's TRS-80 was released.

      First Space Shuttle tested with tethered & free flights on and off a 747.

      WOW! (sic ... look it up.)

      Commodore PET.

      Porsche 928.

      Atari 2600.

      Eradication of Smallpox.

      "Never mind the Bollocks" released.

      Harvey Milk elected as City Supervisor of San Francisco.

      London to New York Concorde service.

      "Have Blue" flies for the first time (This entry added as a link to the official announcement over a decade later, for somewhat obvious reasons).

      On a more personal note, I got my first contract designing and installing a client/server based computer network (Arcnet-based CNC machine network in Oakland, CA). I was still at Uni ... Two days before I landed the contract, we had hooked up the first three TCP/IP nodes on the then ARPANET ...

      WOW! is a perspective thing ...

  23. Local Group
    Mushroom

    "100-fold increase

    in the intensity of high-energy electrons" That's very, very impressive stuff.

    However, to quote the Dane, "I'll have grounds more relative than this."

    Sure, I'd like to see some interstellar space between Voyager and my roof top. And then some solid proof Voyager's not still in the envelope.

    Then there's intergalactic space.

    (Doesn't this remind you a bit of Nimrod shooting his arrow from the top of the Tower of Babel?)

  24. TchmilFan

    Peach?

    Butterscotch, surely. After all the universe is beige. (http://www.pha.jhu.edu/~kgb/cosspec/)

    That may also explain why Angel Delight isn't as good as used to be - it's thinning out as the universe expands.

  25. Red Bren
    Joke

    Luxury!

    "The Voyagers' data links deliver upload rates of 16 bits/second, and download at 160 bits/sec (or 1.4 kbps for high-rate plasma data). "

    There are parts of the UK that would kill for speeds like that!

  26. James Delaney
    Thumb Up

    8 track

    The idea of Voyager floating through space with only its 8 track for company is brilliant.

    If only it was blasting out Rita Coolidge's Higher and Higher, Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop, Foreigner's Cold As Ice and of course the theme from Star Wars (also a number 1 hit in 1977).

    (Before the pedants get on their soap boxes: use your imagination dudes)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good old tech......

    ....basic, out dated, but still bloody works!

    Just like cars of old, clunky and basic but can be fixed with a hammer, couple of sockets and a screwdriver.

    Wonder how long the best we could do would last now?

  28. Richard Wharram

    This carbon unit

    ...is hoping it doesn't come back to be honest.

  29. Peter Mount
    FAIL

    Launched in 1972?

    Strange as I always thought they were launched in 1977, Voyager 2 first in August then Voyager 1 in September?

  30. 0laf Silver badge
    Pint

    Brilliant

    My inner geek got quite excited by this article. Considering the distances involved thing seem to happening quite quickly out there. These layers seem to be relatively thin.

    I did wonder if there will be issues when the probe passed through the boundary. Will the radio signals be bounced by the different layers? It's only got a couple of hundred Watts to play with.

    That's remarkable in itself, 3 lighbulbs of power and we can still pick it up.

    Why is there no 'WIN' icon for this ?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Download speed

    So it downloads at 160 bits/sec. Wow! I didn't realise Virgin had coverage out beyond Pluto - parts of Birmingham seem like a bit of a stretch for them.

    /sarc

  32. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Go

    Faster!! Faster!!!

    At this pace Voyager will never make it to the machine planet and be back in time to save the whales and help Captain Kirk with his one conquest that was actually a HUMAN female!!

    (Of course, she was a 20th century whale-loving lady, so she wasn't aware of Kirk's interstellar bad boy rep. Thus she was helpless before his whole BS "You're into whales too!?" approach combined with the awesome power of 23rd century hair restoration technology)

  33. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

    What about the Pioneers?

    Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 likely got there before Voyager but we haven't been in contact with either for years so there's no way to know for sure. However, based upon when they were launched and their intended trajectories, they are theoretically the farthest flung human devices ever.

    1. cokelid

      Voyagers are farther out

      We still have a very good idea where the Pioneers are both Voyagers overtook the Pioneers long ago. Without a doubt Voyager 1 is the "farthest flung" human made object right now.

  34. Mako

    Ed: "Hey Rob - looks like we're just about to cross the heliopause."

    Rob: "Great! Interstellar space, here we come..."

    Voyager: *BONK!*

    Seriously though, there's something a bit melancholy about the thought of these tiny spacecraft gamely soldiering on out there, and something hugely impressive about 1970s-era hardware still functioning in an incredibly hostile environment. Well done, guys.

  35. Nigel 11
    Boffin

    Gravity probes

    There's also the tantalizing possibility that they are offering us a glimpse of new physics, in particular that the force of gravity may not be quite as Newton and Einstein thought.

    They're off-course by a tiny but measurable and unexplained amount.

    There are of course various hypotheses about why this is, other than new physics. We can't tell, because they weren't built as fundamental physics experiments. Perhaps some new probes should be sent after them, that are designed to probe the nature of gravity.

  36. Eastander
    Happy

    Stream of 'high energy electrons' = 'electric current'

    "Voyager has detected a 100-fold increase in the intensity of high-energy electrons from elsewhere in the galaxy diffusing into our solar system from outside"

    Funny how articles like this continue to talk of streams of ionised particles (e.g. protons) and electrons as a solar 'wind'. If electrons are moving in space, this constitues an electric current (which generates an electric field). If electrons are moving, there must be a potential difference (voltage) causing them to move. High energy electrons must be being forced to move by a very high potential difference. If these electrons are from elsewhere in the galaxy, then the stars in this galaxy are linked by a series of electric currents and voltages. All this stuff about wind is a load of hot air

    1. cokelid

      Nope - no voltages

      You need to read up a bit on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)

      The basic idea is that the gas is so hot as to be a fully ionised plasma (and extremely rarified). The electrons are very mobile and immediately move to neutralise any electric fields (and so no potentials as you're talking about). The magnetic field is key to this "fluid", and acts like it is "frozen in" to the plamsa sweeping along with it (and the electrons can only move freely along the mag field lines). You can then think of the "wind" as two fluids (essentially protons and electrons) flowing through space but neutral on average. Due to the mag field you get cool things like different temperatures parallel to and perpendicular to the mag field.

      As for the electrons coming from elsewhere in the galaxy, they could be flowing along in an interstellar wind (in a fluid that is neutral overall) or they could be from extra-solar helium and hydrogen that gets ionised at the bow shock (that the Voyagers passed through).

      Rest assured the people working on this stuff really do get it, and calling the solar wind a "wind" is a fair analogy.

      Also I'm pretty sure the 8-track recorders stopped working (or were turned off) long ago. We only get "live" data from the Voyagers when they are covered by the DSN, and when we're not actively listening, the telemetry (and data) is lost.

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