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Update: Voyager 1 spacecraft reaches interstellar space, study confirms

Posted September 13, 2013
University of Iowa space physicist Don Gurnett says there is solid evidence that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has become the first manmade object to reach interstellar space, more than 11 billion miles distant and 36 years after it was launched.

Voyager 1 spacecraft reaches interstellar space
An artist’s concept shows the Voyager spacecraft traveling through space against a field of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The finding is reported in a paper published in the Sept. 12 online issue of the journalScience.

“On April 9, the Voyager 1 Plasma Wave instrument, built at the UI in the mid-1970s, began detecting locally generated waves, called electron plasma oscillations, at a frequency that corresponds to an electron density about 40 times greater than the density inside the heliosphere—the region of the sun’s influence,” says Gurnett. “The increased electron density is very close to the value scientists expected to find in the interstellar medium.

“This is the first solid evidence that Voyager 1 has crossed the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere, and interstellar space,” says Gurnett, principal investigator for the plasma wave instrument.

For several months, the relative position of Voyager 1 has stirred something of a scientific debate because there remains some lingering evidence of the nearby heliosphere beyond the heliopause.

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