It’s been almost 36 years since Voyager 1 left our quaint little planet and since then it’s seen quite a bit, but today it’s become the very first human spacecraft to travel outside of the heliosphere.
For those that don’t know, the heliosphere is a region of space which is dominated by the Sun and solar winds. Some believe that the heliosphere acts as a kind of bubble that encloses our star system and protects from other galactic influences.
Originally launched on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 has been traveling toward the edge of the heliosphere at almost 11 miles per second (faster than any man-made craft ever) and has explored Jupiter and Saturn on its way.
On August 25, 2012 the spacecraft began to measure very different radiation levels than it had previously seen, less than one percent of previous amounts recorded. Scientists attribute this to the craft passing through cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, after which having all but a small fraction of radiation left having exited the known heliosphere — more than 11 billion miles from the Sun.
Bill Weber, a professor at New Mexico State University with the Department of Astronomy, said, “It’s outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that … We’re in a new region [of space]. And everything we’re measuring is different and exciting.”
Voyager 1 doesn’t have a specific trajectory after having left our solar system and heliosphere, but in about 40,000 years it’ll be passing by Gliese 445. The spacecraft systems will begin to shut down in 2020, and the craft’s power will only last until 2030.
So that’s it, humankind has successfully sent a spacecraft further than ever before — to a region of space that we have very little knowledge of. Pretty awesome news.