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Voyager 1 magnetic data surprise intrigues researchers

Posted September 26, 2013
A University of Alabama in Huntsville graduate student and a recent UAH doctoral graduate are exploring surprising data from Voyager 1’s crossing of the heliopause into the interstellar medium of our galaxy.
Voyager 1 magnetic data surprise intrigues researchers
From left, UAH doctoral graduate and NASA analyst Dr. Brian Fayock, CSPAR Director Dr. Gary Zank, UAH graduate student Eric Zirnstein and Dr. Jacob Heerikhuisen, assistant professor of physics and assistant director of CSPAR. Credit: Aaron Sexton | UAH

Most surprising to the scientists is why a dramatic shift in the magnetic field that they had modeled and were expecting after the craft left the dominant influence of the Sun’s heliosphere did not occur, even though the plasma density surrounding the craft changed as expected.

Eric Zirnstein, University of Alabama in Huntsville physics graduate student and NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow in Heliophysics, and May UAH doctoral graduate Brian Fayock, who now does data analysis for NASA, are comparing data from different sources with models they have created to try to understand what’s happening.

Imagine a bubble of gas underwater – the surface between the gas bubble and the water corresponds to the heliopause. The heliopause separates regions of different gases. In the case of the Voyager 1 crossing, the heliopause separates material created by the sun from material that surrounds the stars throughout the galaxy. Because the sun is moving through the interstellar medium, it creates a bow wave as well. Outside the heliosphere, there is a 40-fold increase in plasma density.


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