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Posted at 10:03 AM ET, 12/14/2010

Voyager 1 reaches the edges of the solar system

By Melissa Bell

voyager.jpg

It is a space mission 33 years in the making: The Voyager 1 spacecraft will cross a boundary not yet crossed before. It will leave our solar system and enter interstellar space.

Launched in 1977, the unmanned ship is about 10.8 billion miles away from the sun, in an area of the solar system called the heliosheath. The heliosheath is the final area of the solar system where the sun's wind blows:

NASA reports:

Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero... The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1's passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun's sphere of influence, and the spacecraft's upcoming departure from our solar system.

Again, though, we're talking about NASA time. So the final miles the Voyager needs to cross before it reaches that whole new world will probably take four years, researchers estimate.

Though the primary purpose of the Voyager is to collect data, it does have an onboard message if any aliens should come across it. The Voyager Golden Record has "115 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind and thunder, birds, whales, and other animals... musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages."

Update: This is so cool. This Web site has some of the sound excerpts from the Golden Record. Listen to what sounds the 1977 NASA thought should be preserved to encapsulate humanity and Earth.

This post was updated at 12:30 p.m.

By Melissa Bell  | December 14, 2010; 10:03 AM ET
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Comments

Galaxy?

Posted by: mherd1 | December 14, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I'm blown away that the Washington Post would employ anyone stupid enough to think that our solar system is actually a galaxy.

That's like living in the country of Seattle.

Posted by: NegaScout | December 14, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

NegaScout, I've always heard Seattle was a lovely country. Thank you for the assist. Apologies for the error.

Posted by: bellabell | December 14, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Bellabell, some wannabe editors aren't as encouraging with there cticism as maybe they should be. I have a bit of trouble with your description of solar wind. You make it sound as if it actually blows, when in fact the solar wind is a stream of chrged particles(mainly electrons and protons) that escape the suns gravity due to their kinetic energy and high temps of the sun's corona. I have no idea how you would incorporate that description into the article, as I'm sure you weren't allotted too much space to do so. Glad I didn't have to write it! Otherwise, thanks for an interesting article, glad to see science get some space in the Post on occasion.

Posted by: rcupps | December 14, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I don't mean to heap more abuse on the reporter, but it is not clear to me from the story why this is being reported at all. Taken literally, the article simply says that about four years from now, a probe launched in 1977 will leave the solar system. Why report on that future event now? Is it because the probe left the area on the graphic called the "termination shock?" (Whatever that might be, as the term is not defined.)

Must I click the link on the words "NASA reports" to learn why this is current news? After all, Voyager has been approaching the heliosheath for several years now--what's special about this year versus last year versus next year?

It's been a long time since I edited my high school newspaper, but I don't think this story meets the basic test of communicating the answers to the eternal six questions, who, what, when, where, why and how. Why seems to be missing.

Posted by: Bipper | December 14, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

seems like just yesterday (1980?) that the voyagers were flying by Jupiter and Saturn...

Posted by: HankC_57 | December 14, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

It's time to stow the solar sails.

Posted by: roketscientist | December 14, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

bipper, the data was presented at a conference this week so is 'news'...

Posted by: HankC_57 | December 14, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

There's no reason to bash the reporter at all-- I'd be glad to read about Voyager or any other NASA developments in the Post any time. I do admit though that this article seems a bit premature; NASA may have made some sort of announcement but the event won't actually happen for several more years. This craft has been traveling 38,000 MPH for more than 30 years and it's only .002 light-years away. Kind of puts things in perspective! We won't be traveling anywhere beyond our solar system using any of today's known methods.

Posted by: jcriss01 | December 14, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

how long does it take the radio transmissions to arrive here?

10.8B/186K = 58046 secs = 967 mins = 16 hours.

Is this correct?

Posted by: HankC_57 | December 14, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Hey guys, it's Melissa here. No abuse taken! I'll update the post. I was debating putting in a lot of the scientific terminology. I tried to parse it down to the basics, but obviously I parsed too far down.

Posted by: bellabell | December 14, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Is that thing still working?

Posted by: dwj703 | December 14, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

HankC_57:

I think you missed my point. I'm asking why this is news--what was unique or special about the data presented? Just because a conference happened this week doesn't make what happened at the conference "news."

I can present data this week showing that I will be 42 in about four years, but that doesn't make it news. The article in the Post doesn't answer the obvious question of why we are reading today about something that will happen in the future, when this probe, much like my aging process, has been traveling in the same direction for decades. Some milestone must have been passed to make this "news."

If you click the link and read the NASA article, you'll see the reason NASA released the data this week is because the probe reached the point at which the solar wind lost its forward velocity, an important milestone on the trip out of the solar system.

My point is simply this--if I have to read the NASA press release to understand the basic facts of the article, then the reporter has not done his or her job.

Posted by: Bipper | December 14, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Face it, it's cool. Stop bashing the reporter, drop the cynicism, and think of the wonder of it all. What happened in your childhoods? And, I don't see "galaxy" mentioned. Just enjoy it.

Posted by: jckdoors | December 14, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

jckdoors:

First, yes, it is very cool. I remember the probe being launched from my childhood, and I am very interested in where it is and what's going on with it. That's why I read the article, and why it bugged me to see something missing. I wanted to know what cool facts were being left out.

Second, I don't think cynicism means what you think it means, as there was none in any post prior to your comment.

Finally, the reason you don't see "galaxy" is because the error was fixed following the post alerting the reporter to the error.

Posted by: Bipper | December 14, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

@bellabell Same negascout as before. Sorry, I was probably a little harsh before. Can't expect reporters to be experts on everything. My apologies.

Posted by: NegaScout1 | December 14, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey, the story about Voyager leaving our solar system, heading out into the great 'unknown,' hmmm, that might be a great plot for a Star Trek movie, wouldn't it?

Posted by: malonemarketing | December 14, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I saw Voyager I on the Post home page and assumed the news was that it had failed or stopped transmitting. What a relief to learn it's still on the job. I look forward to the next four years of updates as it transits this stage of the journey, and then to more news of the space beyond.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter1 | December 14, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

melissa, i'm just glad you are reporting this. there is way too much bad news out there these days. then some wonder why kids in the US are so behind the rest of the world in science. not everybody is as smart as the above posters!

Posted by: astroman215aolcom | December 14, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

And to think that I still can't get satellite internet here where I mostly reside. Aliens must be blocking access. Satellite television provider "advertising"? .... Buyer beware.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | December 14, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it will catch up with US national debt soon ... One would hope.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | December 14, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I am going to laugh really hard when it runs into the curtain with the stars painted all over it.

Posted by: conare | December 14, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

NegaScout1, thank you! I really appreciate the assist and can understand that a mistake like that would be rather troubling. And to you too, Bipper. Thanks for your interest all of you! Best, Melissa

Posted by: bellabell | December 14, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Voyager (1 or 2) still cannot outrun Obama's ever-expanding ego.

Posted by: Personal_Fowl | December 14, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Spooky. So when Voyager enters heliopause, nobody knows what it's temperment will be like anymore? From the picture, it looks like a violent, blazing hot inferno of indistinguishable scope. I can't fathom a paradigm worthy of comparison.

Posted by: ButzBestSkinEver | December 14, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

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